Nobody expected “Thor 2″ director Alan Taylor to suddenly morph into James Cameron, right?
All the negative critic reviews for TERMINATOR: GENISYS (***, 126 mins., PG-13) are curious in this summer of lightweight, superficial remakes and reboots. Yes, this fifth entry in the series essentially remakes the first picture in the guise of a typically glossy, straight-ahead summer action movie, but it’s certainly no worse than most of what we’ve seen this season, and in fact comes out ahead of the dinosaurs and super-heroes since it, at least, has some star power – and just enough story – backing it up.
Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier’s script opens in the future, where mankind’s last hope for salvation, John Connor (Jason Clarke), is about to send his right-hand man, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), back to 1984, in order to preserve the safety of his mother, Sarah (a particularly fetching Emilia Clarke) from being assassinated by Skynet’s Terminator. Yes, it’s a reenactment of sorts of the 1984 James Cameron hit, but the writers and director Taylor send a curveball along that mixes up the past/present fans think they know – a twist that’s already been given away in the movie’s trailers, but I’ll attempt to avoid spoilers in case you haven’t seen them. Suffice to say, the 1984 Reese ventures to sees Sarah already as a fighting machine, paired with a Terminator (Arnold, of course) she calls “Pops”, and who will do anything to protect her – including taking out a computerized, younger incarnation of himself. Eventually, the movie jumps ahead to 2017, where a new online app dubbed Genisys is about to go online and enslave humanity as it’s a mere cover for Skynet’s true intentions – and it’s up to the unlikely trio to stop them, along with a new T-3000 with a secretive past of its own.
The “Terminator” franchise has had a rocky but entertaining history, and I’ll admit I’ve enjoyed all of the prior installments on their own terms. “Genisys” may be the weakest of the lot, since it clearly favors the contemporary route of wall-to-wall action at the expense of dramatic development – I’m not sure anyone other than hardcore fans will really become engaged in this particular sequel – yet there’s no denying that the special effects and various set-pieces are fun to watch. Also worth noting is that Kalogridis and Lussier tap back into the Sarah-Reese dynamic that was only a part of Cameron’s original. Being able to incorporate some kind of love story, as fleeting as it is here, does add a human component to Taylor’s slavish interest in the technical elements of the picture, and is something that none of the prior sequels touched upon.
The cast also adds some semblance of class, particularly Emilia Clarke’s kick-ass Sarah Connor. After a few minutes of watching her demolition of various Skynet automatons, I honestly forgot all about Linda Hamilton (and particularly her long-winded monologues from Cameron’s T2). Jai Courtney, who was less than impressive opposite Bruce Willis in the last, horrible “Die Hard” movie, makes some amends with a respectable turn in the Michael Biehn role – he’s essentially the audience’s identification (and guide for new viewers), and pulls off the role better than his original casting might have indicated. Jason Clarke, meanwhile, ends up having a good time as a John Connor far removed from the character seen in prior installments, in a plot device that was allegedly once part of the last entry, “Terminator: Salvation,” before being jettisoned prior to shooting.
And then there’s Arnold, who returns to his iconic Terminator role in a full-time capacity for the first time since 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” Schwarzenegger has aged gracefully, and while he doesn’t command the screen as he once did, he still provides the movie with enough of a center that fans should remain engaged in a story that offers some appealing twists to well-worn genre elements. J.K. Simmons also makes a welcome appearance as a cop a bit more sympathetic to our heroes’ plight than earlier series roles of this type.
“Terminator: Genisys” is still, make no mistake, a typical product of our times. There’s nothing especially clever about its script, and at times, the whole enterprise comes across as a dumbed-down remake of Cameron’s first two movies – yet the fact that critics have taken the pitchforks to this picture while comparatively praising similarly empty (and, indeed, inferior) cinematic calories as “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Jurassic World” is baffling. Perhaps it’s just cool to pile onto Arnold’s flailing career and a series that, despite its commercial success around the world, has always (with the exception of T2’s enormous in-take) appealed to sci-fi fans more than the mainstream. “Genisys” certainly isn’t a brilliant reinvention of the series, but it’s at least an entertaining enough “remix” of familiar elements done with sufficient energy and an engaged cast. This year, that’s good enough to elevate the film above the cinematic scrap heap of Summer 2015.
SPY (**½): Melissa McCarthy gives one of her more appealing performances as a CIA desk analyst who’s improbably thrust into live duty after super-spy Jude Law goes missing. That’s the premise of this reunion between the comedienne and director Paul Feig, who essentially launched McCarthy’s feature career in “Bridesmaids” and turned her into a lead opposite Sandra Bullock in “The Heat.” This globe-trotting Bond spoof is less raunchy than either of the duo’s prior collaborations, yet McCarthy is best playing off another lead, and in “Spy,” she briefly ignites sparks with none other than Jason Statham – hilarious parodying his own tough-guy persona. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of Statham to go around: he shows up for a few minutes, then vanishes for lengthy sections at a time, with his role nearly functioning as an extended cameo. Had the movie paired the two throughout, “Spy” could have offered more than the genial, mild laughs it mostly generates.
TED 2 (**): Baffling sequel from Seth MacFarlane actually tries to incorporate a serious story – living teddy bear Ted tries to prove he’s alive so he can adopt a child along with his grocery clerk wife – amongst the director/co-writer’s typical array of low-brow (and occasionally inspired, high-brow) gags. “Ted 2″ does offer a few choice moments – including an uproarious cameo by Liam Neeson, and a song interlude performed by co-star Amanda Seyfried – but MacFarlane’s insistence on bringing social commentary into what’s mostly a foul-mouthed stoner comedy – whose best material was also exhausted in the original – is undoubtedly the reason for the film’s disappointing box-office performance. Among the cast, Mark Wahlberg looks vaguely tired this time out as Ted’s human best-pal, Morgan Freeman generates a worthless late supporting turn, “Mad Men”’s John Slattery is completely wasted, and Mila Kunis was wise to find something else to do (like having a baby) as the first film’s leading lady is nowhere to be found here.
Decades before “The Lone Ranger” (2013) fizzled out at the box-office, Lord Grade’s ITC Entertainment tried their own hand at a big-screen rendition of the masked avenger of yesteryear. The resulting 1981 film, LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER, was as much of a flop as the Johnny Depp-Gore Verbinski misfire, which at least had a few fun sections buried in the rubble of an excessively long and misguided picture. The irony is that the ‘13 film didn’t learn anything from “Legend”’s missteps, which likewise included some unpleasant sections that – in trying to be more “realistic” – only ended up isolating its intended audience.
To be blunt, “Legend” hasn’t aged well, either. This is a slow-going and generally downbeat film that spends a full hour of its 97 minutes recounting the Ranger’s origin, with a charisma-free Klinton Spillsbury saddling up as the title character and Michael Horse essaying faithful sidekick Tonto. The duo are tasked with avenging the death of the Ranger’s brother at the hands of the vile Butch Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd), whose new plan includes kidnapping President Ulysses S. Grant (Jason Robards, making his second ITC bomb in a row after “Raise the Titanic”).
The script, credited to five different writers, lacks humor and the death of the Texas Rangers by Cavendish’s gang is quite violent for a PG-rated “family picture” in 1981. But then, this is a movie that’s slow to build, compounded by a sometimes leaden John Barry score that’s repetitive at best and ponderous at worst (the sequence where Silver, the Ranger’s steed, “trains” his master in slow-motion is downright interminable). Capping the “fun” are Merle Haggard’s ballad-like vocals – mostly spoken, save for the forgettable title tune “The Man in the Mask” – which were a nice idea in concept but come across as charmless in execution, much like the film itself.
Cinematographer William A. Fraker stepped into the director’s chair for the film, creating a milky, soft look to the picture that has plagued every home video release of the movie. Here restored to its full 2.35 scope in a 1080p Blu-Ray transfer, “Legend of the Lone Ranger” is fresher and more watchable than it’s ever been on the small screen, though the image is still unattractively soft at times and the encoding brings out some technical issues (pixilation, etc.) that are hard to discern from the amount of dirt in the image. A DTS MA 2.0 soundtrack (mono) and the trailer round out Shout’s release, out next week (*½, 98 mins., 1981, PG).
“Legend of the Lone Ranger” is part of Shout’s July line-up, one that’s filled with genre titles – both good and bad – that will appeal to buffs, along with several cult-favorite DVD releases. Here’s a look:
HOWLING II Blu-Ray (*½, 91 mins., 1985, R; Shout! Factory): Fans have had a strange realtionship with this bizarre, nonsensical 1985 sequel to Joe Dante’s “The Howling” – at first ridiculing Philippe Mora’s follow-up, then turning the picture into something of a cult movie for its badness. In neither instance, though, do viewers generally think positively of the movie itself, which is a borderline incoherent mess with Reb Brown (Yor, CBS’ Captain America) playing the brother of Dee Wallace’s character from the original. After watching “Karen White” reanimate from the dead as a full-blown creature, Brown goes hunting for a den of werewolves led by a Transylvanian queen (a sultry Sybil Danning) with the help of a sage hunter (Christopher Lee, forever maintaining a straight face). This Hemdale production, shot overseas, shares almost nothing in common with its predecessor beyond its name and “Howling” author Gary Bradner’s credit as a co-writer – in fact, everything about it, from the shoddy make-up to its ridiculous (and hard to follow) story, smacks of cut-rate filmmaking. For that reason, though, some fans have gravitated towards the picture, which here receives Shout’s customary Special Edition package on Blu-Ray. Two commentaries include a talk with the charismatic Mora and another with composer Steve Parsons and editor Charles Bornstein, who takes credit for the film working in any capacity (perhaps it’s a moral victory for him?). Interviews with Brown and Danning are enjoyable to see, while a talk with the make-up artists, the trailer, a still gallery, a 1080p (1.85) transfer and 2.0 DTS MA mono audio round out the release.
THE OUTING/THE GODSEND Blu-Ray (87/93 mins., 1987/1980, R; Shout! Factory): Not one of my favorite Shout compilations, admittedly, this single-disc Blu-Ray couples a pair of ‘80s B efforts. “The Outing”, also known as “The Lamp,” is a minor Texas-shot thriller about a genie who causes all kinds of trouble once it’s unleashed from a lamp. Several unpleasant sequences including a rape scene are mixed into an otherwise mundane film that does receive a new transfer here of its longer version. The 1980 Cannon production “The Godsend” is a tired British retread of “The Omen” as a young girl worms her way into a typical suburban family and knocks off the young children one by one. Roger Webb’s sometimes hysterical score adds to the preceding along with very uptight performances, but the story itself is completely by-the-numbers. Also receiving a new 1080p (1.78) transfer here is “The Godsend,” though you’ll need to be a fan of either of the two pictures to really get mileage out of this release.
CELLAR DWELLER/CATACOMBS Blu-Ray (78/84 mins., 1987/1988, R; Shout! Factory): A pair of mid ‘80s minor genre outings, popular on the video cassette market, comprise this single-disc Blu release, with “Catacombs” (aka “Curse IV”) also including a commentary by director David Schmoeller and both pictures being treated to fresh, new 1080p (1.78) HD transfers licensed through MGM with DTS MA 2.0 mono soundtracks.
ROBOT JOX Blu-Ray (**½, 85 mins., 1990, PG; Shout! Factory): One of the more likeable Empire Pictures products from producer Charles Band, “Robot Jox” offers dueling pilots (“Alien Nation” TV series lead Gary Graham, Paul Koslo) of giant robots doing battle to determine the sovereignty of Alaska (or something like that) in a wild future world. Stuart Gordon’s fast-moving, low-budget film gets enormous mileage out of David Allen’s special effects as well as Frederic Talgorn’s sweeping orchestral score – you’ll be wondering why Talgorn never made much noise in the U.S. after hearing this quality effort, far more memorable than anything written for the “Transformers” movies. Shout’s Blu is mostly loaded with archival extras (interviews, behind the scenes content) as well as two new commentaries, an attractive 1080p (1.85) transfer and 2.0 DTS MA stereo sound.
I, MADMAN Blu-Ray (***, 89 mins., 1989, R; Shout! Factory): When a bookstore worker and avid reader (Jenny Wright) becomes attached to a particular pulp paperback author, she finds that her passion has unknowingly – and incredibly – let loose the deranged madman who wrote the books in the first place – and who begins to make the fictional murders of his writings real. Tibor Takacs (“The Gate”) helmed this entertaining, well-regarded indie horror outing, which moves along at a swift clip and boasts colorful cinematography by Bryan England and a sense of fun to go along with its gory (but not overly gross) effects. Commentary with Takacs and co-star/”artistic supervisor” Randall William Cook, a new Making of, behind-the-scenes footage, the trailer and a still gallery grace Shout’s Special Edition plus a fine 1080p (1.85) transfer and 2.0 DTS MA audio. Recommended!
Also New From Shout on Blu-Ray: Horror outings DARK SUMMER (82 mins., 2013) and ALIEN OUTPOST (92 mins., 2015) hail from IFC’s Midnight shingle and street on the 14th from Shout. In the latter, mankind takes on a group of aliens known as the Heavies who are invading the Earth. Seen through the eyes of a documentary crew, Jabbar Raisani’s film is a superior low-budget sci-fi effort – kind of a more inventive “Edge of Tomorrow” – with Shout’s Blu-Ray including commentary, interviews, deleted scenes and the trailer, to go along with a 1080p (1.85) transfer.
“Dark Summer,” meanwhile, stars Daniel Williamson as a 17-year-old who stalked a classmate and finds the tables turned in a supernatural tale from director Paul Solet. Shout’s Blu, out July 14th alongside “Alien Outpost,” includes commentary, featurettes, cast interviews, the trailer, a 1080p (1.78) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.
Coming from Shout: The eighth and final season of BARNEY MILLER (9 hours, 1981-82) completes the run of the ABC sitcom and the wacky roster of detectives in the 12th Precinct on DVD. Extras include “Inside the 12th Precinct: The Barney Miller Story,” plus the original pilot of the series (“The Life and Times of Barney Miller”), and an “Inside the Writer’s Room” featurette…WKRP IN CINCINNATI: The Complete Third Season (9 hours, 1980-81) boasts all 21 episodes from ’80-’81 season of the cult classic sitcom. As with Shout’s prior releases, the “complicated history of music rights” has lead to a soundtrack that was restored and licensed “uncut” as much as possible, though still purists may object to the edits. The three-disc set, like Barney Miller, offers 4:3 full-screen transfers from the videotape masters and mono sound…Charles Bronson’s BORDERLINE (99 mins., 1980, PG) makes its DVD debut this month from Timeless Media. This 1980 Lord Grade production stars Bronson as a US Border Patrol agent in a still-timely action-adventure co-starring a young Ed Harris and Bruno Kirby. Shout’s DVD sadly includes only a 4:3 full-screen transfer and mono sound…coming to Blu-Ray, also from the ITC library, is the 1979 TV movie adaptation of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (158 mins.), starring Richard Thomas under the direction of Delbert Mann. Shout’s Blu includes the full, uncut version of the mini-series, but in a 16:9 (1.78) aspect ratio (some overseas versions were framed at 4:3). DTS MA mono sound completes the disc…Finally, POUND PUPPIES: PICK OF THE LITTER (110 mins., 2015) scampers its way onto DVD this month featuring five episodes from the popular kids cartoon.
MAGGIE Blu-Ray (**, 95 mins., 2014, PG-13; Lionsgate): A more “sensitive” kind of zombie film, “Maggie” charts the downward spiral of a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who contracts the virus and her father’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) efforts to keep her humanity intact – as long as it can. John Scott 3’s script and Henry Hobson’s direction keep “Maggie” focused on the small scale of a rural family’s plight in a post-virus ridden wasteland, and the first third of the picture works reasonably well. Regrettably, the set-up proves far more interesting than the story as it unfolds, as “Maggie” offers not one surprise as Breslin’s character succumbs to the virus in a by-the-numbers fashion, as predictably as one expects. The performances of Breslin and a more “sensitive” Arnold, meanwhile, are fine, but can only do so much as the movie lumbers on to its expected end. Lionsgate’s Blu-Ray includes a deleted scene, commentary, featurette, interviews, a 1080p (2.40) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA audio and a digital copy.
Also New From Lionsgate: Michael Fassbender accompanies a 16-year-old (Kodi Smit-McPhee) searching for his beloved in the disappointing western SLOW WEST (84 mins., 2013, R), an A24 release from writer-director John MacLean coming to Blu-Ray this week from Lionsgate. The disc includes a featurette, deleted scenes, a 1080p (1.66) transfer and DTS MA 5.1 audio as well as a digital copy…Steven Seagal and Vinnie Jones do battle in the underworld thriller ABSOLUTION (96 mins., 2014, R), one of the better direct-to-video efforts from the two stars of late. Lionsgate’s Blu, available this week, includes commentary, a behind the scenes segment, cast interviews, a 1080p (1.78) transfer, 5.1 DTS MA audio and a digital copy…the acclaimed British import ‘71 (99 mins., 2014, R) finally lands on DVD in the U.S. from Lionsgate. The period-set story of a British solider left to his own devices receives a 16:9 (2.40) transfer, 5.1 audio and a digital copy.
HOUSE OF CARDS Season 3 Blu-Ray (691 mins., 2015; Sony): Kevin Spacey’s President Underwood battles to maintain his political acumen – as well as his historical legacy – while wife Claire (Robin Wright) has aspirations beyond merely serving as the first lady in the third season of the popular Netflix series. Widely mixed viewer reactions greeted this most recent season of “House of Cards,” which debuted on Netflix to mostly divisive comments from critics as well; viewers new to the series or without a Netflix subscription will have to check out Sony’s new Season 3 release for themselves when it streets this week. The Blu-Ray/digital HD combo pack boasts 1080p (2.00) transfers, 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks, the BD exclusive featurette “A Death in Mexico,” along with the segment “Backstage Politics: On the Set of House of Cards.”
JOE DIRT Blu-Ray (91 mins., 2001, PG-13; Sony): David Spade’s comedy about a down-on-his luck guy who hits the road in search of his family has become something of a cult film over the years – at least more than most of the Adam Sandler-produced Happy Madison comedies. Dennis Miller, Christopher Walken and the lovely Brittany Daniel co-starred in the 2001 film, written by Spade and Fred Wolf, which hits Blu-Ray this month from Sony – just in time for the premiere of “Joe Dirt 2,” which is going straight to Sony’s online streaming platform, Crackle. Commentary with director Dennie Gordon, another track with Spade, outtakes, bloopers, deleted scenes, and the trailer are on-hand along with two new features: “Joe Dirt: The Return” and a Making Of “Joe Dirt 2.” A digital copy is also included plus a 1080p (1.85) transfer with 5.1 DTS MA sound.
THE SALT OF THE EARTH Blu-Ray/DVD (110 mins., 2014, PG-13; Sony): Photographer Sebastiao Salgado is chronicled in this documentary film from Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, which includes vibrant reproductions of Salgado’s almost timeless looking photographs, as well as a glimpse at his work and creative process. Excellently presented, “The Salt of the Earth” deservedly was nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars and comes to Blu-Ray in a combo pack on July 14th. Sony’s HD package includes deleted scenes, commentary, a featurette with Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, a healthy 1080p (1.85) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA stereo sound.
BITTEN Season 2 DVD (485 mins., 2015; E One): Laura Vandervoort returns as Elena, the sexy werewolf trying to exact revenge along with her Pack for the “Mutt uprising” that culminated at the end of season one. Along the way, the group is thrust into the Otherworld in this second season of the Canadian series, which airs domestically on the Syfy Channel. E One’s DVD includes deleted scenes, a behind the scenes featurette, NY Comic Con panel, 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 soundtracks.
DAWN PATROL DVD (87 mins., 2014; Alchemy): Scott Eastwood – Clint’s son and star of the recent “The Last Ride” – stars here as a surfer trying to get a measure of justice from thugs he holds responsible for his brother’s death. Rita Wilson, Julie Carmen and Jeff Fahey co-star in Daniel Petrie, Jr.’s film, scored by Joe Kraemer and available this week on DVD. Alchemy’s disc includes a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 sound.
DELI MAN Blu-Ray (91 mins., 2014, PG-13; Cohen): The gradual disappearance of the local delicatessen makes this terrific documentary from Erik Greenberg Anjou all the more important to savor. “Deli Man” appealingly profiles the life of a third generation “deli man,” Ziggy Gruber, who continues his family’s tradition in Houston, Texas, while remembering the establishments and proprietors who came before him. Cohen’s Blu-Ray boasts a 1080p transfer and DTS MA 5.1 audio along with bonus interviews and featurettes.
Virgil Films New Releases: Seen on the Spike Channel, I AM EVEL KNIEVEL (94 mins., 2014) offers David Ray’s entertaining look at the life and times of the daredevil, offering comments from Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Rodrgieuz, Guy Fieri, “Super Dave” Bob Einstein, and Knievel’s family. Virgil’s Blu includes a pair of featurettes, a 1080p transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound…South Korean pastor Lee Jong-rak is the subject of THE DROP BOX (77 mins., 2015), Brian Ivie’s documentary of a man who has done so much for abandoned children. A panel discussion on the film is one of the extras in Virgil’s DVD along with a 16:9 transfer, behind the scenes featurette, 16:9 transfer and stereo sound.
Billed as a “modern divorce story,” GOODBYE TO ALL THAT (86 mins., 2012, Not Rated; IFC) stars Paul Schneider as a formerly married man, blindsided by his wife’s request for a divorce, who re-enters the dating scene. Anna Camp, Heather Graham, Amy Sedaris and Melanie Lynskey co-star in Angus MacLachlan’s comedy, on DVD July 14th from IFC sporting the trailer, a 16:9 transfer (1.85) and a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
NEXT TIME: Criterion’s THE BLACK STALLION gallops onto Blu-Ray! Until then, don’t forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!