Monday, April 26, 2010

COCOON (Blu-ray)

Written by Senora Bicho

was released in 1985. I remember seeing it in the theater and my memory is that of a cute story involving old people and Steve Guttenberg. Watching it over 20 years later sparked a very different opinion.

The movie follows a group of friends living in a retirement community. The main focus is on three men of the group, each experiencing a different difficulty that comes with age. Ben (Wilford Brimley) fails an eye test and has his driver's license revoked, Joe (Hume Cronyn) has untreatable cancer, and Arthur (Don Ameche) has lost his ability with the ladies. The trio escape their daily lives by trespassing onto a vacant neighboring estate to swim in the pool and enjoy the little bit of danger their law-breaking provides.

The action then cuts to a mysterious group of four that hires Jack Bonner (Steve Guttenberg) to be their guide for a diving expedition. Jack is relieved for the job since he is broke and desperately needs the money. It is revealed the group is renting the vacant estate and through the course of the expedition they bring up large pods and deposit them into the pool. The old men continue to swim in the pool and start immediately feeling younger and more alive. Ben gets his eyesight back, Joe's cancer goes into remission, and all of the men become frisky. While everything seems to be working out well, Jack and the old men realize there is something very different about the group and soon discover their secret. This forces them all to make decisions that will have a lasting impact on the rest of their lives.

The DVD includes an audio commentary by Ron Howard, likely from a previous DVD release, as are the five very short making-of featurettes, which are disappointing and do not offer much interesting information.

The video is presented with a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer looks good enough for its age but is nothing to write home about. The source is clean but can be soft at times. Grain is apparent and the image can be dark at times. The audio is more impressive presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The dialogue is clear and understandable. The surrounds offer minor ambiance, particularly water effects, and music.

I have mixed emotions on my review. There are portions of the story involving the retirees that are endearing and enjoyable. However, the denouement is confusing. The message of the movie is touted as being about love, friendship, and the human spirit but some of the choices the characters make are not in line with this and don't make sense. The Steve Guttenberg storyline is painful at best. I never thought he was a great actor but here he is downright awful. He is never believable or genuine and one particular scene is beyond ridiculous. For the reasons mentioned, I can't wholeheartedly recommend Cocoon. There is especially no reason to purchase the Blu-ray version since the special effects don't hold up and are mostly distracting. Instead of wasting two hours watching this, use those two hours to enjoy the preciousness of life which is what the movie would tell you to do anyways.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Great Mouse Detective – Mystery in the Mist Edition

Written by Hombre Divertido

Prior to the release of The Little Mermaid in 1989, the1980s were generally considered to be somewhat of a black hole for Disney when it comes to animated films. From The Fox and the Hound (1981) to Oliver and Company (1988) Disney failed to achieve the success that it had established in decades past. The Black Cauldron (1985) and The Great Mouse Detective (1986) find themselves sandwiched in this period.

In reviewing the aforementioned films, one may find that they have missed some entertaining movies. That is certainly the case with The Great Mouse Detective. No, certainly not in the same league as the wonderful films that Disney would release in the 1990s, but it is a cute movie.

Based on the Eve Titus' book Basil of Baker Street, The Great Mouse Detective follows the adventures of Basil (Barrie Ingham), the Sherlock Holmes-esque mouse detective, and his newly found sidekick, Dr. David Q. Dawson (Val Bettin), as they help young Olivia (Susanne Pollatschek) find her father Hiram (Alan Young) who has been kidnapped by the evil Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price).

It is the vocal talents of the above-mentioned artists and the direction of Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, David Michener, and John Musker, that allows this simple story to over achieve. This is just simple storytelling done well with energetic and extremely likeable characters.

Almost eight years after the first DVD, Disney releases the digitally restored Mystery in the Mist edition with an all-new “So You Think You Can Sleuth Challenge” and the bonus material that was included in 2002: “The Making of The Great Mouse Detective” and the “The World's Greatest Criminal Mind” sing-along song. Unfortunately, two animated shorts included with 2002 disc have been replaced by “Dylan & Cole Sprouses: Blu-ray Is Suite!” and “Learn How to Take Your Favorite Movies On the Go” which really have no right being listed as bonus features.

The digitally restored film looks great, but the “So You Think You Can Sleuth Challenge” will prove to be disappointing to children. “The Making of The Great Mouse Detective” is an interesting and entertaining look into the development and production of this film. Though the fact that CGI was used for the first time in a Disney film to create the chase through the workings of a clock is highlighted in the featurette, said scene still manages to be distracting as it looks too different from the animation utilized in the rest of the film. The Sing-along song is fun for all who choose to join in.

Recommendation: The Great Mouse Detective has been overlooked for too long. The performance of the legendary Vincent Price as the power-hungry Professor Ratigan alone is worth the 71-minute investment. This film is great for the whole family, though the barroom scene is a bit racy for young children. The overall energy of the film is perfect for kids, and adults will appreciate the Sherlock Holmes references including a vocal cameo by Basil Rathbone himself. There is not enough new material her to warrant the purchase of the Mystery in the Mist edition if you already own the 2002 release.

"On the Trail":

Monday, April 19, 2010


Written by Fido

Okay, that’s the last easy joke I’ll make about the title. But seriously, this movie, while made with good intentions, misses the mark on so many points. I’ll do my best to keep the rant under novel length.

First off, the story about a wannabe super-hero who makes his dream come true through an online-ordered suit and a circumstantial YouTube video is a cute idea in its essence. The problem with Kick-Ass is that it has made the lead character, the unassuming Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), an all-too stereotypical teenage nobody seen in countless better forms before. Now that is no big deal, really. I like those kinds of characters; they tend to work. The problem here is that he’s just not funny, charming, or sympathetic – at all.

The sniveling nature of the character grows old about 20 minutes in and really, overall, there’s zero attachment generated for him. I put an equal helping of blame on Johnson, director Matthew Vaughn, and the material itself, all looking to other similar characters for their cue, rather than building something that works for this particular movie. Lizewski’s persona is so hackneyed and so rushed that once he got to the business of being a superhero I found myself wanting him to lose. Not really what you want the audience to feel for your hero.

Another character issue is the absolutely rushed “relationship” Lizewski has with his would-be girlfriend Katie Demeaux (equally blandly played by Lindsay Fonseca) is thrown in to give the girls something to partially swoon about. It just feels like such a “oops, we forgot a girlfriend” piece of semi-plot that at no point do I feel a bond between either of these people. Again, I just want something to go terribly wrong between them so I don’t have to deal with watching them in their impossibly stupid goings-on again.

What's odd is the guy the movie is named after and who should have the most impact on the story isn’t the lead. His character is not what drives the story forward and in the end it isn’t what foils the bad guys. Revolving around that point – there’s an inordinate amount of time spent with the bad guys in this movie. Mobsters, that at no time offer any kind of amusement or threat outside of the yawn-inducing, stereotypical gangster whose dialogue seems cut and pasted from 1,000 other (far better done) characters in the same tired vein.

I’m all for villains. It’s great to spend a lot of time with your baddies (see: The Dark Knight for justified copious amounts of bad guy screen time). Hell, usually the bad guys are more interesting than the good guys anyway. But if you’re going to do that, those bad guys better bring something more interesting to the table than the character equivalent of fruitcake to a Christmas party.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse, whose geeky musings have been fun to watch thus far in his career, is misused in the role “Red Mist”, a.k.a., Chris D’Amico. But as it is, I appreciate the movie trying for something different in making him a co-heavy, but it falls flat. Making a comedic actor play a role that calls for no scenes of comedy is yet another bad idea in the cavalcade of bad ideas that is this movie.

So you have a grip of bland mobsters, miscast sidekicks and cohorts and a hero that is really hard to give a crap about. So you ask yourself what keeps the movie from falling apart altogether? Well, the answer lies in Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage. Though they have far too brief an amount of time on-screen, they steal the movie in those spare moments.

Every frame spent away from Big Daddy and Hit Girl is a moment wasted. Between Cage’s unappreciated Adam West-speaking gait and Moretz bringing an unparalleled clutch of pain and foul-mouthed awesomeness to her character - they are what the film should’ve been about. Their chemistry is unexpected. You wouldn’t think this functioning dysfunction would work so well, but it does, better than anything else this film has to offer. Even the plot-exposition moments between the two of them are seamless. There’s a bond between the two characters you can feel and it’s them who drive the plot forward, make the bad guys run, and keep the movie from completely disintegrating. The only time the movie (and the audience for that matter) truly lights up is when they’re on screen.

However, despite their quality performances, they aren’t the crux of the film. And that right there is where this over-hyped whirlwind of mediocrity really fails outright. Somehow, the script and director Vaughn do their best to dodge around their best characters in favor of everything worse – which is a lot. My friend said it best as we walked back to the car – “Why don’t you want to spend more time with the murderous little girl who says (see you next Tuesday) in casual conversation?!”

Speaking of the “everything worse” department, this movie has one the emptiest runs of nothingness in it I’ve seen in a long, long time. There is quite literally a 30-minute stretch in this film when there are no laughs (though most of the laughs, or pseudo laughs were in the trailer), no action, no character development, and no nothing in it. The audience was deathly quiet and the urge to sneak into another theatre, look at my hand or count the number of chairs in the theatre was tough to fight. So not only does the movie sputter along at a painfully herky-jerky pace, it leaves you with this cinematic equivalent of a drum solo right in the middle of itself.

Once it does get going again, it kicks in full bore, making you think it’s going to really start moving now (an hour-plus into the thing), but then right as the action rolls in, it screeches to another halt (and another “high above the city” shot that is used a total of three times in the movie. A gag run into the ground is the not-funny-once reference to Spider-Man that the film managed to do four times).

Mainly what you’ll hear about is the violence in the film. It’s violence that is no different than a million others before it; it’s just that now some of it is at the hands of a small girl and scrawny teenagers. That might put some off, but really it’s nothing more than a sideline to the movie’s parody aspirations.

Some of these fight scenes are done well (as in the drug apartment and running the hallway scenes), but there are two that feel nothing but out of place. They manage to take away from the better ones in the film by both betraying character and by feeling completely jammed into place. One, Big Daddy kills some mobsters and burns down a warehouse in a scene that felt like nothing more than the director realizing he didn’t have enough action scenes in it to warrant the movie’s title. The other is this “first-person shooter” video game looking gunfight scene that is just not what we were told the character would do.

I could go on and on, complaining about this major disappointment of a film. Suffice to say that Kick-Ass really isn’t a full-fledged comedy, action film, drama or otherwise. The only thing it manages to accomplish in full is in being one lost garbled mess of a film that winds up feeling like nothing more than a couple cool action scenes hastily pasted together with some seriously lacking runs of all too familiar “zero to hero” caulking.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Have Gun - Will Travel: The Fourth Season, Volume One

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Have Gun - Will Travel: The Fourth Season, Volume One
finds our hero Paladin pretty much right where he left off, traveling the West and hiring out his gun for just cause. Richard Boone stars as the “fast gun for hire that heeds the calling wind” and rides into nineteen more half-hour episodes in this first half of the fourth season which cover late 1960 to early 1961. The plots and action have never let up in this series and Boone is perfect as the no nonsense, very wise and skilled gunman with a level head and quick draw.

The overall premise of Have Gun - Will Travel is as the title implies: a skilled gun hand hires out his pistol to those he deems worthy or situations he finds interesting. Paladin would rather settle any problems without his gun but you never push, prod, or threaten Paladin. He will send you to an early grave. Based out of San Francisco, this very well educated, mystery man of a good family isn’t simply a hired killer; many times he’ll show up and switch sides when he realizes his potential client is in the wrong or is simply bent on having someone killed.

Sounds simple and easily tiring yet it is not, at all. With many great writers, the stories stay sharp and involving. From the opening horns where we see Paladin drawing his black revolver (with cool chess knight emblem on the handle) and quoting an interesting line from that episode to the closing theme song “The Ballad of Paladin” sung by Johnny Western, you’re hooked and wonder what will happen to the gunman in black this time.

Through out the three DVDs we explore the many aspects of Paladin's wisdom, critical thinking and judgment. Have Gun - Will Travel is very adult and tackles some good issues or at least hints at them. We hear a tale of an Indian massacre by the U.S. Army in “The Montebank,” anti slavery in “Killing Of Jessie May,” the stigma of being a long-time felon in “The Prisoner,” and the prejudice against women in certain occupations with “The Tender Gun.”

Each episode is interesting and different, some are lighthearted as with “Love’s Young Dream” about a pelt scavenger who inherits a fancy nightclub; “Out Of The Old Ballpark,” which finds Paladin as baseball umpire to some feuding townsfolk, “Foggbound,” based on "Around the World in 80 Days," and “Princess And The Gunfighter,” in which Paladin himself falls for a lovely young princess.

On the other hand there are well-played dramas that lack not for action. “A Head Of Hair” finds Paladin facing off against Indians as his guide reflects on his mistreatment by a certain tribe, “The Calf” is a about a range feud begun between brothers, and then there’s “Quiet Night In Town” in two parts. “Quiet Night” is a solid story and has Paladin’s prisoner being lynched by rowdy, bored townfolk, and Paladin himself takes a beating and that’s just Part I. Part II sees Paladin awake again and mad as hell, at first, seeking revenge which he gets in a way. His cool head prevails and his hand is “forced” to kill where he would have been content to hand the killer over to the Sheriff.

Overall, Have Gun - Will Travel: The Fourth Season, Volume One is just as action packed, hard hitting and interesting as the first three full seasons, which I’ve seen regularly since I was a child thanks to my Father. As always "Have Gun-Will Travel" is packed with guest stars such as Robert Blake, Denver Pyle, Jack Albertson, Harry Carey Jr., George Kennedy and Ben Johnson to name a few, and there are always lesser-known actors of the past who pop up in supporting rolls. Once again without the aid of my Father these names would be forgotten or not known at all to me. Thanks again, Pop. So “Wire Paladin San Francisco” or just look online or at a DVD store near you to find the latest installment of ave Gun - Will Travel.