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Review of GET SHORTY (Shout Select Blu-ray)

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Grade: B
Entire family: No (older teens only)
1995, 105 min., Color
Crime comedy-drama
Shout! Factory
Rated R for language and some violence
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B+
Trailer
Amazon link

Get Shorty is rated R and strictly for families with older teenagers. The third word we hear is an f-bomb, and it’s dropped dozens of times throughout the film (how many dozen make a gross?). But for families that may have watched John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino in the old TV comedy Welcome Back Kotter, or caught his “cool” acts in Grease and Saturday Night Fever, his performance as small-time hood Chili Palmer will seem like a revelation. It’s Travolta at his absolute coolest. For his portrayal of Chili he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

Chili is a Miami-based loan shark who works for a crime boss, and a crazy series of unfortunate events is set in motion when he’s at a restaurant and a mobster from a rival crime family “borrows” his leather jacket from the coat room. Chili promptly goes to the man’s apartment and breaks his nose when he answers the door, then reclaims his coat. When the man, Ray “Bones” Barboni (Dennis Farina), comes to Chili’s office to get revenge, Chili parts his hair with a bullet. And all of this is done to the kind of jazzy, up-tempo soundtrack that viewers have come to expect from crime comedy-dramas.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) has fun with this one, showcasing Elmore Leonard’s colorful characters and dialogue in scenes that are packed sky-high with props that add to the crime-comedy flavor.

It’s going to take some careful watching to catch everything, because there’s a lot going on, and some of the plot is based on the old domino theory. Knock one down, and they all fall down . . . eventually. After Chili’s mob boss dies, Palmer finds himself working for Bones and is ordered to collect a loan debt owed by a guy (David Paymer) who was believed killed in an airplane crash . . . but actually never made it on the plane. That trail takes Chili to Las Vegas, where he decides to accept a second job from a casino manager who has his own bad debt he needs collected. That sends Chili to Hollywood to track down B-movie producer Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), whom he finds at the home of B-movie actress Karen Flores (Rene Russo). But it doesn’t take long for film buff Chili to get sucked into the idea of making a movie himself. He pitches a script idea (that’s really what happened so far in this movie) and Harry is hooked. Bring in some DEA guys and another rival mob with drug money just waiting to be picked up at an airline locker, and you’ve got a tightly constructed plot interweave that eventually comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Aside from the language, there are several instances of brutal violence, but because the tone of the film is Elmore Leonard-light, even that seems tempered and there’s a tongue-in-cheek aspect involved, even when there’s a death. Several years before James Gandolfini played Tony Soprano he turned up here as a movie stuntman trying to make extra money working as a “tough buy” for a Hollywood mobster, and he and Travolta are fun together. Bette Midler also appears in a comic role.

Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray release featuring a 4K transfer is remarkable. With superior picture and sound quality, few would suspect that this film was made more than 20 years ago. It’s not dated at all. Part of that, of course, is attributable to Elmore Leonard, whose crime caper stories themselves seem timeless.

Language: More than 80 f-bombs and several dozen lesser expletives

Sex: Nothing is shown, but in one scene it’s suggested that a woman is rubbing a man’s crotch; other than that, there’s a three-second shot of bare butts swimming in a pool

Violence: People are punched in the face, two men are shot point blank, and another falls off a balcony

Adult situations: There’s plenty of casual drinking and smoking

Takeaway: Music really does a fine job of capturing the tone Leonard described in the novel, and Travolta is great fun to watch, as is Gandolfini

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Review of TAG (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B
Entire family: No
2018, 100 min., Color
Comedy
Warner Bros.
Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Trailer
Amazon link

Though Tag is rated R—mostly for language (lots of f-bombs)—teens have been flocking to see it with their parents. After all, it is a movie about a kid’s game, and who hasn’t chased after someone on the playground or in the neighborhood in order to tap them and shout, “You’re it”? And how fun is it to see a children’s game elevated to the same, crazy, go-for-broke level of prom invitations?

Tag is a relatively plotless comedy that relies on the game and hijinks to sustain viewers’ interest for the entire 100 minutes. It stars Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Annabelle Wallis, Hannibal Buress, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb, Jon Hamm, and Jeremy Renner. Renner plays the never-been-tagged super player that suddenly all the others want to join together to bring down—even though (or especially since?) he’s getting married during “tag month.” As you probably heard, Renner broke both of his arms on the second day of filming while trying to climb a stack of 20+ chairs. The rigging broke and he went down hard, but in the film it looks as fun as the rest of the elaborate stunts that these childhood friends have been pulling in order to tag each other for nearly 30 years.

The game, no doubt, keeps their minds sharp and their bodies fit. But mostly it gives them a chance to keep in touch—literally. Credit The Wall Street Journal for bringing these guys to the public’s attention with a January 2013 front-page feature that led to notoriety and eventually this film from Warner Bros. and TV series/movie director Jeff Tomsic.

And it is laugh-out-loud funny in spots. It’s a bit like watching Impractical Jokers go at each other, with side plots that don’t seem to matter. You really are just itching to see the next tag attempt . . . and the next . . . and the next. More

Review of JERMAL (DVD)

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Grade: B
Entire family: No
2008, 88 min., Color
Drama
IndiePix
Not rated (would be R for brief nudity and language, alcohol use, and smoking)
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: Indonesian Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with English subtitles
Bonus features: C-
Trailer
Amazon link

You haven’t seen another film in the world like Jermal, a 2008 Indonesian production with English subtitles about a group of young teenage boys who live and work on an isolated fishing platform in the middle of the Malacca Straits off North Sumatra. It’s an absolutely unique, vicarious experience that almost dwarfs the coming-of-age / father-son themes that shape the plot—or rather, situation, since this is a character- and situation-driven film.

Fishing platforms or “jermals” may be common in Indonesia and Malaysia, but no one before directors Ravi L. Bharwani and Rayya Makarim has ever thought to shoot a drama on one of them.

What we see in the beautifully filmed Jermal is a high level of realism that extends to the actors—or rather, non-actors. The directors said that many of the nine boys that appear in the film were actually working already on the jermal that the filmmakers inhabited for 30 days.

Though work on a fishing platform is tough and the conditions primitive, no experience is necessary. Because of their isolation they’re often a refuge for people on society’s fringes. If the movie is any indication, authorities don’t seem to mind that children under 18 are working on them, and the directors said that they knew of several other jermals in the area—one of them occupied by convicts, one by runaway children, and another by children sent by their parents to work (one less mouth to feed).

Jermal isn’t rated, but if it were it would probably merit an R for one scene of young male posterior nudity, one f-bomb, a few lesser swearwords, constant bullying, mild violence, and smoking and alcohol use. More

Review of BLADE RUNNER 2049 (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B+/B
2017, 164 min., Color
Sci-Fi drama
Warner Bros.
Rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: A-/B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Trailer
Amazon link

Blade Runner 2049 is rated R, but if you have older teens (15+) they’re probably begging you to let them see it, so I’m reviewing it here.

More homage than sequel or remake, Blade Runner 2049 picks up 30 years after the action of the groundbreaking 1982 sci-fi film from director Ridley Scott, who probably would have directed this one if he wasn’t already working on a project. For fans, Blade Runner 2049 offers the same bonus attraction as Star Wars: The Force Awakens—the return of Harrison Ford to an iconic role. For a new generation, the appeal is current Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Gosling, who plays a 2049 version of Ford’s LAPD replicant-hunting cop. The twist this time? By 2049, replicants (bioengineered synthetic humans) are so common and integrated into society that they even work as Blade Runners—those cops who track down and “retire” the old versions that are no longer functioning as they were programmed to do.

After K (Gosling) catches up with and eliminates an old replicant in the opening sequence, he discovers a box buried near a tree that, though dead, is still a rarity in this post-apocalyptic world. Rarer still are the small flowers he finds on the ground next to it. As it turns out, they were marking a grave, for inside the box are bones that have a number on it. A female replicant who, forensics explain, had died in childbirth. To them it’s a frightening discovery, for if replicants are capable of reproducing in the traditional way, it means they may also have feelings that the corporation that engineered them hadn’t programmed. That raises all sorts of questions. If they can reproduce, can they also harbor grudges? Can they mount a unified rebellion? Can they produce and store memories of their own, rather than being limited to those that are programmed into them?

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Review of IT (2017) (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B+/A-
2017, 135 min., Color
Horror-Thriller
Warner Bros.
Rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: B+ (nice interview with King, great feature on the kids)
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Trailer
Amazon link

The 2017 reincarnation of It might be rated R, but it was one of those exceptions that under-18s begged their parents to take them to see in theaters. Why? Because that young audience absolutely loves the hit TV series Stranger Things, which pays tribute to ‘80s movies and takes its central structure from It, the Stephen King novel that inspired a popular 1990 TV miniseries before it did this remake.

In It, as in Stranger Things, the plot revolves around a fantastic sci-fi/horror force that is somehow involved in the mysterious disappearances of local children. And in It, as in Stranger Things, a group of pre-teen friends defy parents and secretly try to solve the mystery and stop the disappearances. Not coincidentally, there is one girl and one black boy in this group of bullied kids who band together, just as there was in Stephen King’s novel and TV miniseries.

The book does a much better job of explaining how “It” came to Earth like an asteroid, crashing into the small Maine town of Derry, which King based on his experience living in Bangor. “It” is a shape-shifter who surfaces every 27 years and feeds on children after preying on their fears—one of those fears being clowns, a shape that Pennywise, as the character calls himself, relishes. If you weren’t afraid of clowns before the 2017 version of It, you might be. Bill Skarsgard plays the creepy character with the same kind of unpredictable, hypo-energetic madness that Heath Ledger brought to the role of The Joker in The Dark Knight.

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Review of PILGRIMAGE (2017) (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: C/C+
Entire family: No
2017, 96 min., Color
Adventure-Drama
RLJ Entertainment
Not rated (Would be R for violence)
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD
Trailer
Amazon link

Pilgrimage is an average movie with above-average atmosphere and cinematography, thanks largely to the Irish landscapes where it was mostly filmed. It’s also a movie that plods along into eye-rolling territory until, suddenly, there’s a burst of violent (some would call it ultra-violent) action. Though it’s billed as a medieval thriller, this Jekyll-Hyde movie lurches between tedium and frenetic action, while viewers may well wish that the filmmakers had opted for some sort of happy medium.

The plot is simple: an emissary from Rome shows up at an Irish monastery in remote Western Ireland with instructions to take a holy relic back to the Pope, who believes it has enough power to end the Crusades. An opening scene showed just how that relic came to become “holy”: it was the large rock that ended the life of a Christian martyr who was being stoned for his beliefs. Fast-forward to 1202 A.D. and Brother Geraldus (Stanley Weber) shows up in a white robe asking for the relic.

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Review of THE WEDDING BANQUET (Blu-ray)

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Grade: B+/A-
Entire Family: No, older teens and up
1993, 106 min., Color
Comedy-drama
Rated R
Olive Films
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: DTS Mono
Bonus features: C-
Trailer
Amazon link

Though Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet is rated R for language and brief frontal nudity, it’s included here because the 1993 comedy-drama deals with issues faced by people on the fringe of society. Suitable for families with older teens, it’s the kind of film that can put a humanizing face on the LGBT and immigration headlines, the kind of film that in the process will have you both laughing and tearing up.

It’s almost hard to believe that The Wedding Banquet is more than 25 years old, because it’s still so topical and relevant. It’s about a gay Chinese man who has yet to come out to his family, and a Chinese artist who needs a green card or must marry an American citizen to stay in the country. Lee (The Life of Pi) does a fine job of exploring the anxieties faced by people in their situations, while also managing to create a thoroughly entertaining and absorbing film. An added bonus is the insight we get into another culture, as the wedding customs themselves will fascinate family audiences.

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