7-19-16: Scorpion, Superman & The New World

Before it becomes a wan recycling of its classic 1984 predecessor, Paul Feig’s GHOSTBUSTERS (**½, 117 mins., PG-13) is, if nothing else, an energetic attempt at revitalizing one of the most popular – and certainly groundbreaking for its genre-bending mix of humor and cutting-edge special effects – comedies of all-time.

ghostbusters_ver6_xlgIt’s a remake that’s funny in spurts, especially during its opening hour, where scientist and would-be paranormal investigators Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy start up their own ghost-busting biz after an outbreak of supernatural activity takes over the Big Apple (mostly Boston this time around). Together with a transit cop (Leslie Jones) and McCarthy’s tech-savvy cohort (Saturday Night Live’s forever-mugging Kate McKinnon), the quartet find out that, yes, “Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good” while combating a vile villain: a creepy hotel janitor who just wants to bring the dead back to life.

Speaking of dead, the entire subplot surrounding that character is a total waste of time, though the opening stages of the new “Ghostbsuters” are surprisingly energetic and fun. Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold (who wrote Feig’s funniest film, “The Heat,” for McCarthy and Sandra Bullock) effectively find humor around the edges of supporting characters, whether it’s a delivery man causing McCarthy constant frustration, or the school administrator (Tonight Show sidekick Steve Higgins) who throws the girls out on the street. “Silicon Valley”’s Zach Woods is also amusing as a tour guide who’s one of the first to experience the ghostly goings-on.

Best of all is Chris Hemsworth’s one-note – though still very funny – comic turn as a brainless piece of “man candy” who functions as the gang’s secretary. Displaying far more comedic ability than he exhibited in the likes of last year’s ill-fated “Vacation” remake, Hemsworth plays off the female leads effectively and is arguably the film’s strongest comedic asset – which also tells you something about its overall effectiveness.

“Ghostbusters”’s funniest moments come before the ghosts break free and the film turns into a tedious reprise of things we’ve all seen before, though the casting – even in its earliest stages – doesn’t entirely work.

Wiig and McCarthy are both so restrained here – and exhibit very little chemistry together – that it’s surprising they ever worked together before (on Feig’s earlier smash “Bridesmaids”). Casting McCarthy in a “straight (wo)man” role, meanwhile, also doesn’t play to her improvisational strengths. As for Saturday Night Live cast members Jones and McKinnon, the duo are a mixed bag: while Jones dials back her frequent persona from that show effectively and puts in a lively performance, McKinnon’s endless shenanigans wore me out, quickly. Yes she’s funny in a few places, but McKinnon seems unaware of modulation and comes off here delivering “weird” and “cartoony” expressions in every single frame, sometimes for no reason at all. It’s an attention-seeking and at-times cringe-worthy display that’s as far removed from the comedy of Harold Ramis as you can get.

The film serves up a before-mentioned villain so weak it’s hard to waste any additional time on his presence – same for Andy Garcia’s Mayor, which barely registers on a comedic scale of any kind. Just as disappointing are the movie’s cameos for the entire surviving original cast, minus Rick Moranis (who had the good sense to not appear). Bill Murray’s appearance, in particular, stops the movie cold, and never gives a hungry audience a reason to laugh.

ghostbusters_ver10_xlgAnd then there’s the second hour, which mimics the original movie’s apocalyptic effects show minus any dramatic stakes. Lots of animation and cartoon ghouls pop up, including a reprise of Slimer and friends – but it’s all just empty noise. When the film occasionally asks you to take its cries of friendship and support seriously, it’s about as banal as a bad old Afterschool Special.

Add in some glaring editorial holes (Wiig’s “separation” from the team is never explained; Times Square suddenly turns into the 1970s – for no reason at all) and you’ve got a movie whose strongest elements come when it’s not mimicking the original movie….which begs the question: why remake “Ghostbusters” in the first place?

The original was such a phenomenon, and has become an oft-quoted, enduring favorite, that a “reboot” was bound to fail from the get-go. To its credit, this picture is amiable and appealing, but there’s never one moment, or one laugh, that comes halfway to approaching the comedic heights of its predecessor. “Ghostbusters” 2016 has energy to spare and it’s not nearly the dog its trailers hinted at, but it’s ultimately a pale imitation that doesn’t receive extra credit simply because its heart is in the right place.

THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS (**): Lackluster effort from the Minions crew manages to be almost entirely unappealing, clumsily written and dull. Though a box-office hit, this heavily-promoted animated feature – about a pair of mismatched household dogs who find themselves part of a pet revolution led by a white bunny (voiced by Kevin Hart) who wants to overthrow their human overlords – is one of the worst of its kind I’ve had to endure yet. Plot-heavy and charmless. About midway through, our two-year-old started asking for Thomas the Tank Engine. Can’t say I disagreed with his sentiments (Daddy is teaching him well already!). (PG)

New on Blu-Ray & DVD

After reading over some of the bad reviews from the same critics who thought last year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was actually a good movie, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (**½, 151/182 mins., PG-13/R; Warner), Warner Bros.’ big super-hero gambit, doesn’t seem nearly as horrendous as the brickbats hurled at it would indicate.

910VwYFzRqL._SL1500_Yes, this overstuffed epic – now even more overstuffed in an R-rated, three-hour “Ultimate Edition” – is dour and depressing for its first half, which plays out like the sequel “Man of Steel 2″ would have been if its studio decided not to add Batman to the party and use the film as a springboard for a franchise of “Justice League” films. That’s something Zack Snyder’s movie rather clumsily functions as, with certain heroes from the DC universe being introduced on-screen for the first time…via a series of emails being opened on a computer monitor (so much for drama!).

Most of the movie does play like a follow-up to 2013’s “Man of Steel,” with Superman (Henry Cavill, looking less comfortable here, having lost first billing to Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne) being questioned for the human fallout that accompanied his Metropolis battle with General Zod (Michael Shannon, returning here as a corpse). While the world ponders whether we need Superman and Snyder ramps up the Christ imagery – elements curiously reprised from Bryan Singer’s ill-fated “Superman Returns” – the Mark Zuckerberg-like “Alexander” Luthor (an intensely annoying Jesse Eisenberg) hasn‘t only found Kryptonite but also a way to resurrect a Kryptonian monster that will bring death and destruction down on Kal-El. He’s also figured out who all the “meta-humans” are in the world, though how Luthor has been able to accomplish any of this must have been left on the cutting room floor (scant explanation is offered in the longer version).

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne remains as irritated by Superman’s unchecked brand of justice as Supes is with Batman’s vigilante tactics, leading to a confrontation that’s violent and well-handled by director Snyder, though the journey in getting there is an uneven ride. Snyder and writers David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio are far less effective injecting “realism” into the movie’s plot than they are juggling the pure comic-book material, creating a strange mix of 9/11 like imagery at the movie’s outset before switching over to outlandish action in its second half. As a result, the film improves as it eventually gets going, and ends with a rousing confrontation between Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman (the good looking but rather bland Gal Godot) and Doomsday, Luthor’s Kryptonian beast, whose appearance drew some scattered applause from the geeks sitting behind us in theaters.

As with any Zack Snyder movie, you have to take the good with the bad, and there are equal elements of both in “Batman V Superman.” A couple of Batman dream-sequences drew laughs amongst audience members at my screening, and it’s strange to see Superman relegated to playing second fiddle to Batman in a veritable sequel to his own film. Tellingly, after all is said and done, there didn’t seem to be much reason for Batman to be in this movie in the first place, as it’s hard to remember any memorable moment in the film Bruce Wayne carries (that scene when he reads his email? That other scene where Bruce looks at Wonder Woman photos?).

Still, although he mostly mopes around searching for clues about Luthor’s plan and the identity of Diana Prince, Affleck is fine as Bruce Wayne and Jeremy Irons gets the movie’s biggest laugh (and one of its only moments of levity) when Alfred the Butler is asked to explain what’s going on following Doomsday’s introduction – his reaction cleverly bridges the gap between the quasi-realism of the Nolan Batman films and the increasingly fantastic direction Snyder’s vision is headed, and the picture could have used more of those moments.

The Superman cast, meanwhile, is also solid when called upon, especially Amy Adams’ plucky Lois Lane and Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White – so much that you’re left wondering, stripped of the Bat-element and thin Justice League material, if “Man of Steel 2″ wouldn’t have been an improvement on its predecessor.

In the end, the results are essentially the same, though the bombastic film score credited to Hans Zimmer (who reportedly wrote mostly Superman’s material) and Junkie XL is a cacophony of noise that’s often dreadful, especially in its “themes” (more like pounding piano tinkering) for Lex Luthor and the unintentionally hilarious, drumline accompaniment for Wonder Woman. We’ve heard plenty of Media Ventures scores that have added nothing to the films they’ve been written for, but this soundtrack is a mind-numbing disaster in every facet, with its only effective dramatic beats coming through reprises of Zimmer’s “Man of Steel” theme.

If you can get past the musical and narrative noise, there is entertainment to be had in “Batman V Superman,” with its best moments surpassing anything on-display in last year’s “Avengers” sequel – and while it’s not as entertaining as this summer’s overpraised “Captain America: Civil War,” it’s also more adult and ambitious, which is at least refreshing. For comic book die-hards, “Dawn of Justice” may not be the dream DC film they’ve been waiting for, but it’s also not the disaster some are claiming. Call it a draw of super-heroic proportions.

Warner’s 3D Combo pack of the film includes both its PG-13 theatrical cut and the much-discussed R-rated version, running 31 minutes longer. The “Ultimate” cut mostly adds material to the film’s pondering of where DC heroes fit in the real world, making its central themes clearer though not necessarily more effective; it also adds a role for Jena Malone (not nearly as exciting as fans hoped) and, in general, just prolongs the finished film without really changing its effectiveness one way or another. Both the 3D version – well executed in terms of depth-of-field effects – and its 2D platter (terrific 1080p transfer) are accompanied by outstandingly rendered Dolby Atmos soundtracks, while two hours of extras are pretty much fluffy in their look behind the scenes. A Digital HD copy rounds out the package.

81FmmHhONxL._SL1500_New From Criterion

Terrence Malick’s THE NEW WORLD (***, 135/150/173 mins., 2005, PG-13; Criterion) is undoubtedly a gorgeous film, a sumptuous visual experience that transports the viewer back to early 17th century Jamestown, where English settlers made first contact with local “Naturals” – a landmark moment in American history that also included the fortuitous meeting between Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher).

Like Malick’s first film since a two-decade hiberation, 1998’s “The Thin Red Line,” “The New World” is leisurely-paced (or slow moving, depending on how you want to look at it), preferring internal monologues by various characters to spoken dialogue, relying heavily on mood, atmosphere, and sound. Thankfully for Malick, he achieved another spectacular looking film, with Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography brilliantly capturing the natural essence of Virginia and making one feel as if you’ve taken the first steps into this “new world” along with the settlers.

The film, though, can be frustrating if the atmosphere and natural beauty don’t envelop you. No less than three cuts of the film were completed, but none offer more of a coherent plot than the others. Malick’s original cut clocked in at over three hours and the initial Oscar screenings – here dubbed “The First Cut” – of “The New World” ran 150 minutes. At the insistence of New Line, the director then trimmed 15 minutes for its eventual U.S. theatrical release, and it was that 135-minute version which the studio initially released in North America.

Unburdened by time constraints, Malick created another cut that saw a release in 2008 – a new, 173-minute “Extended Edition,” running a few minutes short of three hours and which added some heft to a variety of sequences scattered throughout the film. It also incorporated a group of title cards that pop up infrequently, thereby creating different “chapters” within the movie, which is something I’m not entirely sure was necessary yet was added with the director’s “playful” intent, according to editor Mark Yoshikawa. That said, the film’s focus was unchanged, and some viewers found the pace even more leisurely than it was before.

Overall, even in the longest version of the picture – which regrettably retains the hodgepodge soundtrack with Wagner and Mozart often substituting for one of James Horner’s finest scores – the film is still most worthwhile for its aesthetic values, with little from a performance or story angle being especially compelling (though then-teenager Kilcher does make an impressive debut as the wide-eyed, physically striking Algonquian princess).

It’s a visual feast, if nothing else, and Criterion’s deluxe Blu-Ray edition of the film includes all three versions of the film for viewers to choose from. In looking back over “The New World,” it’s entirely possible the 150-minute “First Cut” is the best compromise between the theatrical cut and Malick’s “Extended Cut,” which comes off as the most self-indulgent of the trio. Each version essentially conveys the same message and visual strengths, so how tolerant you are of Malick’s visual poetry will dictate which cut works best for you.

The 1080p (2.35) transfers and 5.1 DTS MA soundtracks are spectacular across all three versions of the picture, as you might anticipate, with Lubezki and Malick having supervised a 4K restoration of the Extended Version, while the Theatrical and First Cuts were also overseen by Lubezki in 1080p.

Special features, of course, are fascinating, scattered across each disc. A conversation with editors Hank Corwin, Saar Klein and Mark Yoshikawa is arguably the most interesting, with each editor discussing Malick’s “unusual” methodology and how they had to adapt their respective techniques to suit the project. Corwin also takes the opportunity to criticize James Horner, who was publicly distressed by how (little) his music was used in the film; the editor tries to bite his lip but says Horner was “inappropriate” and “didn’t get” Malick. Yoshikawa also details the differences in how all three versions were produced, though the differences between them – as illustrated in the featurette comparing them all – can be as minute as extra footage of the wind blowing through sea grass.

Interviews with Farrell and Kilcher relay their memories of working on the picture; conversations with producer Sarah Green, production designer Jack Fisk and costume designer Jacqueline West also convey their recollections of the location filming, while trailers and an 80-minute 2004 documentary, “Making The New World,” by Austin Jack Lynch are also included. Extensive liner notes with reproductions of gorgeous Colonial American art put the finishing touch on a superlative Criterion package.

91nA6jDee7L._SL1500_Scorpion New Releases

An entertaining salute to Hollywood films of the ‘30s and ‘40s, Stanley Donen’s MOVIE MOVIE (***, 106 mins., 1978, PG) offers George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Red Buttons, Barry Botwick, Art Carney, Eli Wallach, Barbara Harris and Harry Hamlin in an old-time “Double Feature” spoof.

Scott plays not one but two deathbed scenes in the two “features”: “Dynamite Hands” – a B&W send-up of Golden Age melodramas, with Hamlin as a law student-turned-boxer who fights to fund his ailing sister’s eye operation – and “Baxter’s Beauties of 1933,” a color musical offering Kathleen Beller as a girl who hits the Great White Way just in time to star in the last musical produced by the great “Spats Baxter” (Scott), coincidentally the father she never knew.

Many of the cast members appear in both stories, sometimes in the same type of general function or specific role (Carney’s doctor, for example) – an attribute that adds an extra tongue-in-cheek element to Larry Gelbart and Sheldon Keller’s campy script, which also offers a brief trailer for a war-time picture with Scott and company, sandwiched inbetween them.

A production of Lew Grade’s ITC and theatrically released by Warner Bros., “Movie Movie” is good fun for old-time movie buffs, filled with perfectly-pitched comic performances and an enthusiastic tone.

Making its Blu-Ray debut from Scorpion Releasing, “Movie Movie” is presented in a respectable 1080p (1.78) transfer that’s missing its opening credits and accompanying introduction from George Burns. Fans should certainly take note that the credits are included in the “George Burns Introduction” in the disc’s supplements and should start the feature with it before moving on to the main film (there is a disclaimer the Burns elements were only part of a standard-definition master that could not be attached to the HD print; either way, it’s curious that the HD print doesn’t include the only place director Donen and most of the principal crew are credited!).

The disc’s supplements are marvelous. New interviews are included with Harry Hamlin (46 minutes), Barry Bostwick (roughly 30 minutes) and Kathleen Beller (15 minutes), each of which include a discussion of not just the movie but each performer’s respective film career as well. This adds an enormous value to the disc as a whole, as the engaging Hamlin discusses the improbable start to his career, the “bad blood” that developed between him and the producers of “Clash of the Titans,” and work on the Polygram film “King of the Mountain.” Bostwick, meanwhile, talks about his background in musical-theater, work in “Rocky Horror” and even “Megaforce,” while Beller talks about her collaboration with Donen and the outstanding cast of veteran stars on-hand in “Movie Movie.”

Also new from Scorpion is a DVD edition of 92 IN THE SHADE (**, 87 mins., 1975, R), the only film directed by “Missouri Breaks”/”Rancho Deluxe” writer Thomas McGuane.

Working from his original script, this convoluted and rather dismal character-study is set amongst a group of tour guides in the Florida Keys. Peter Fonda plays one such aspiring fishing guide, who comes between a pair of old-timers (Warren Oates, Harry Dean Stanton) who toy with the young man, ultimately blowing up with dire consequences; Burgess Meredith (Fonda’s grandfather), Sylvia Miles (the sultry secretary), Margot Kidder (the girlfriend) and Elizabeth Ashley (Stanton’s wife) portray some of the other, colorful types who populate McGuane’s film, which is surprisingly convoluted for a 90-minute character study that meanders around, like an unsuccessful fishing trip, for most of its duration.

Culled from a 2015 HD master, Scorpion elected to release “92 in the Shade” only on DVD. Though generally good looking, the elements appear to show their age and likely would have all the more on Blu-Ray, so the standard-def only package is understandable. No extras are included, and fans should note the movie only incorporates its “downbeat” ending, which concludes the picture on a nihilistic note that’s certainly in keeping with its era.

91swQOWmkOL._SL1500_Also New & Noteworthy

THE BOSS Blu-Ray Combo Pack (*½, 99 mins., 2016, R; Universal): Melissa McCarthy’s goodwill somehow managed to carry this dreary, unfunny mess to a $60 million domestic gross – but you wonder how many more times viewers are going to give her a pass after the likes of “Tammy” and now “The Boss,” yet another tepid affair concocted by McCarthy and her husband, director Ben Falcone.

Here, McCarthy reprises her stand-up character of Michelle Darnell, a Martha Stewart/Susan Powter-type who loses her way – and ends up in prison for insider trading. Once she’s released, Darnell struggles to recapture her “brand,” and is forced to rely on her former assistant (Kristen Bell, perennially deserving of a better vehicle), a single mom whose daughter is a girl scout.

“The Boss” is pretty much a wash right from its start – when it can’t even mine laughs from the combination of McCarthy and Peter Dinklage, you know you’re in for a rough ride. That’s precisely what the film gives us, along with a central character who’s neither funny nor endearing.

Universal’s combo pack offers both an R-rated and unrated version of the film, adding six minutes of material. Extended scenes, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, gag reel and BD exclusives like McCarthy’s original Groundlings sketch are included plus a DVD and Digital HD copy, 1080p (1.85) transfer and 5.1 DTS MA sound.

THE 100 – Season 3 DVD (673 mins., 2016; Warner): With the tragedy at Mount Weather behind them, the “100″ refugees return home after war has cost them dearly. Now, the group has to forge a new peace and attempt to live after escaping – all the while encountering new surprises – in 16 third-season episodes from the fan-favorite CW series. Now on DVD from Warner Home Video, Season 3 of “The 100″ includes new featurettes (“Arkadia: From Wreckage to Salvation,” “Ice Nation: Brutal and Fierce,” “Wanheda: Clarke’s Journey,” “Polis Grounder Capital,” “A Short-Lived Victory: Unlocking the Season 3 Finale,” and a 2015 Comic Con panel), unaired scenes, pre-viz stunts, a gag reel, 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks.

91wGIjdXj0L._SL1500_ADVENTURE TIME – CARD WARS DVD (176 mins., 2016; Warner): 16 episodes from the popular Cartoon Network series hit DVD this week from Warner. Included in the single-disc DVD are Card Wars; Daddy-Daughter Card Wars; What Was Missing; Up a Tree; A Glitch is a Glitch; Nemesis; Evergeeen; Everything’s Jake; The Diary; Dentist; Varmints; Football; Crossover; The Hall of Egress; Flute Spell; and The Thin Yellow Line – in 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo sound.

BELLADONNA OF SADNESS Blu-Ray (93 mins., 1973; Cinelicious): One of the most beautifully rendered and yet disturbing animated films of all-time, Osamu Tezuka and Elichi Yamamoto’s avant-garde picture follows a peasant girl named Jeanne who’s raped on her wedding night. Seeking revenge, she ends up partnering with a forest spirit, really the devil, who grants her magical powers in a phantasmagoric show marked by intense sexual imagery and a potent score by jazz artist Masahiko Satoha. Not for all tastes but certainly a very worthy film for animation aficionados, Cinelicious’ Blu-Ray offers a new 4K restoration from the original camera negative, including the restoration of some eight minutes of material; new interviews with Yamamoto, art director Kuni Fukai and Satoh; the US trailer and Japanese trailer; and 16 pages of booklet notes touching upon the film’s feminist commentary. Bizarre, to say the least, but startling – especially for anime fans.

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