For the week of August 20th, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment is releasing Epic on Blu-ray. An adaptation of William Joyce's beloved children's tale The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, Epic finds Ice Age creator Chris Wedge transitioning from prehistoric comedy to a full-fledged adventure about a young girl who discovers a hidden world of ancient forest rivalries. The change (mostly) works, as Epic uses Joyce's story as a springboard for some stunning action scenes made all the more impressive through the judicious use of 3D. Epic isn't high-caliber animated fare on the level of Up or How to Train Your Dragon - boiled down, it's just a prettier, more sprightly version of FernGully: The Last Rainforest - but it remains an energetic, family-friendly delight, with an accomplished voice cast (Amanda Seyfried, The Hunger Games' Josh Hutcherson, Colin Farrell, Academy Award-winner Christoph Waltz, Beyoncé, Aziz Ansari, Bridesmaids' Chris O'Dowd, Futurama's John DiMaggio, and Jason Sudeikis) that goes a long way towards patching over the plot and character issues.
Casey Broadwater called Epic "definitely a by-the-numbers affair, and offers few surprises, but it hums along nicely, never flagging in its kid-friendly energy. There are frantic battle scenes between the Boggans and the Leafmen, a semi-scary encounter with a rat, and even a musical number - courtesy of Steven Tyler - although this last addition is arguably unneeded and out of place. On the whole, the voice acting is strong, with Django Unchained's Christoph Waltz making a fine villain and Aziz Ansari stealing the show whenever his suave-but-inept slug is on screen. This is all routine animated movie stuff - celebrity voices, colorful action, PG-rated comedy - but Epic does differentiate itself somewhat in the fun way that it illustrates the differences in physics and physical ability between the human-sized "stompers" like Professor Bomba, who appear to move in slow motion from the perspective of the tiny creatures on the ground, and the fleet-footed Leafmen, who can run and jump and lift with an impressiveness that's only possible on their scale. They've basically got the strength of ants and the speed of flies, and I imagine four-to-ten-year-olds might think that's pretty cool."
From HBO Home Entertainment comes Season Three of its acclaimed gangster saga Boardwalk Empire. Despite its can't-miss pedigree (its showrunner is Sopranos alumnus Terence Winter; its executive producer is Academy Award-winner Martin Scorsese; and its ensemble cast includes Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald, Dabney Coleman, Stephen Root, James Cromwell, Gretchen Mol, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Michael Shannon), Boardwalk Empire has taken a little while to grow into its own; Season One was entertaining but unfocused, while its sophomore year struggled to address the series' too-sprawling cast of characters and their many narrative tangles. However, that second season ended in a literal and figurative bang, drawing together its disparate threads in a stunning television run, and that focus has carried into the third season. The actors - with Buscemi, Shannon, and Jack Huston (as a horrendously scarred, remorseful killer) particular standouts - settled into the nuances of their characters, and the story got a big boost from the addition of Bobby Cannavale as a florid, decadent gangster looking to weaken Buscemi's bootlegging hold. It still isn't The Sopranos, but should things keep looking up, Boardwalk Empire has the potential to challenge that venerated HBO program's title.
In his Blu-ray review, Kenneth Brown calls Season Three "a sumptuous, richly designed, utterly convincing period piece that boasts stunning production design and costuming. I'm not often distracted by the craftsmanship and fully realized research entailed in a series like Boardwalk Empire, but it's difficult to focus solely on an episode when a show looks this good. From top to bottom, script to screen, this 1920s Atlantic City. The authenticity is astonishing, the dialogue expertly penned (and so much more than mere tough-guy chit chat), the little, seemingly innocuous details flawless, the performances as studied as the set decoration, and the sum total the airtight illusion executive producer Martin Scorsese envisioned from the start. Even when one of the series' storylines wears thin or grows tiresome - which isn't often - the world, the cinematography, the music...it comes together beautifully, and without a hint of the cancerous modernization that afflicts many a period drama. The action is sometimes too stylized for its own good, sure. The explosive violence a bit contrived, or the brutish intimidation a bit thick in the jowls, I'll concede...But bullet for bullet, bottle for bottle, Boardwalk Empire is something special and continues to stand as one of the most absorbing series on television, as well as yet another award-worthy HBO triumph."
With its release of Amour, Sony Pictures is bringing one of 2012's most acclaimed features to home media this week. Amour is the latest work from controversial filmmaker Michael Haneke; in films like Cache, Funny Games (both versions), and The White Ribbon, Haneke has turned the cinema into an attack, forcing audiences to question and criticize the perceptions that prejudice their viewing habits. It is that sense of hostility that makes Amour all the more remarkable - for the first time, Haneke drops his postmodern, oft-aggressive aims in order to depict, with unsparing clarity, the ravages of age. For that reason, Amour is just as hard to watch as something like Funny Games. It hurts to watch the decades-long union of Georges and Anne (the great Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who received an Academy Award-nomination for her fearless work here) fray under the stress of Anne's stroke and subsequent physical deterioration, and Haneke spares us none of the physical and emotional trauma wrought upon his leads. However, the movie hurts because Haneke cares so much about Trintignant and Riva, and he makes us care, too. That level of empathy is bracing, and if Amour isn't Michael Haneke's best film for that reason, then it certainly ranks high. The (much deserved) winner of the 2013 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Svet Atanasov reserves his highest praise for the film, writing that it "is an uncompromisingly honest, to the point of at times being cruel, film about love and dignity that should resonate with anyone who has had to see a loved one gradually lose his hold on life. The film is about those final moments when one has to cope with the realization that death is a natural part of life. Despite some genuinely disturbing sequences where Haneke points the camera at Anne and shows her suffering, Amour isn't a hyper-realistic film. The intent behind it is not to shock the viewer, but to give a sense of the inevitable - a type of experience virtually everyone will have to deal with at some point. This is done with a great deal of respect and kindness...Trintignant, arguably the greatest French actor alive, is incredible as the reserved and respectful Georges. Haneke wrote Amour's script for Trintignant, who came out of a 14-year retirement to play his part. Riva, a true legend, should have won an Oscar...for her enormously moving performance."
From Millennium Media, this week sees the Blu-ray release of Killing Season. This action-thriller first picked up notices in script form; writer Evan Daugherty's screenplay won the 2008 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition and quickly popped up on the Black List, a ranking of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood. Now Daugherty's work is a movie, and the results are...less impressive than that backstory might suggest. Maybe it worked better on the page. What should have been a tense war of wills between a Serbian war victim (John Travolta) and a former U.S. military operative (Robert De Niro) comes across, in the hands of Daredevil helmer Mark Steven Johnson, as histrionic and needlessly gory - any points that Daugherty might have wanted to make about the psychic cost of killing can't survive Johnson's spastic action choreography and Travolta's hammy lead performance. His Emil Kovac needs to function as a tortured conscience, of sorts, in order for Killing Season's atypically thoughtful conclusion to work, but Travolta gnashes the scenery to such a degree that he makes his over-the-top turns in From Paris with Love and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 look restrained. Even with these concerns, Killing Season remains watchable, thanks to cinematographer Peter Menzies' beautiful location footage in Appalachia and to De Niro's refreshingly low-key work as Travolta's nemesis. De Niro isn't operating at his Taxi Driver or Raging Bull peaks, but he's believable all the same, and his understated grace helps to balance out Travolta's convulsions.
Martin Liebman had fewer issues with the film, calling it "at its best when the undertones slowly begin to take over and the character arcs move beyond the action...It's short but well-paced, moving briskly as the characters battle physically and psychologically with both one another and themselves. The action is intense and rather gory, difficult to stomach in places but nicely supportive of the notions of the brutality of war and damage to the psyche that's manifested through violence towards another. Travolta and De Niro make for quality antagonists. There's an understanding between the men, a welcome and almost amicable camaraderie to begin, a believably difficult hardship and antagonism in the middle, and ultimately an almost surreal chemistry the further the film pushes towards its resolution. De Niro is solid in the part, though Travolta does slow the picture down with his forced accent. Nevertheless, the men build their characters smartly and believably, taking a tale of revenge, survival, and pendulum-like violence that's all refined by the inner character qualities the men expertly build through the prism of the outer violence."
Anchor Bay has picked Tuesday to street No One Lives, which, on the surface, would seem a routine slice of slasher-movie mayhem. We open on a bickering couple (Laura Ramsey and Fast & Furious 6's Luke Evans), whose road trip takes a shocking turn when they unintentionally make the acquaintance of a group of psycho hillbilly criminals. That's not a million miles removed from The Strangers or the original Last House on the Left, but No One Lives bucks conventions in a surprising fashion. To say too much more would spoil the fun (and be warned: the trailer and the back of the Blu-ray case give away plot points best left secret). Suffice to say, director Ryűhei Kitamura (who helmed the equally grisly The Midnight Meat Train) keeps the blood flowing in copious and inventive ways, and the film's protagonists help elevate the stock scenario; Evans plays an unusually slippery and capable hero, while Adelaide Clemens is a far tougher "Final Girl" than the genre often allows for.
If Martin Liebman took issue with No One Lives for its "unimaginative dialogue, shaky character motivations, and substandard acting," he also agreed that the film's twist helped alleviate some of its problems, that "No One Lives largely charts its own course through the murky waters of modern lower budget fare and gives an honest go at formulating a new dynamic, even if it embraces old pieces. The picture is largely a product of its tables-turned plot switch-a-roo, a single shakeup in how these things are normally done to interest and, more importunity, invigorate its viewers beyond standard trope. And, surprisingly, that's enough. Whether that's because everything else in these sorts of movies is so stale or the film actually paints a picture worth seeing is up in the air, but cases may be made for both. The novelty brings an added edge, removing the usual audience anticipation, immediately canceling out the audience's preconditioning to accept convention and instead expect the unexpected. What's better is that No One Lives actually works that dynamic to its favor, elevating it beyond gimmick and into something worth watching develop, even in all its gruesome goodness (or nastiness, depending on one's perspective)."
Whereas No One Lives attacks the horror genre with serious intentions, Scary Movie 5 has no such ambitions. The most recent installment in the increasingly enervating comedy franchise, Scary Movie 5 provides a scattershot parody of the "found-footage" chillers that have dominated the horror-movie marketplace (think Paranormal Activity or Apollo 18), though "scattershot" is the operative word here. Any satirical pretensions come secondary to a nonstop barrage of reference jokes that will feel dated fifteen minutes from now, meaning, of course, that there are rampant shout-outs to Honey Boo Boo, Tyler Perry's Madea, and Lindsey Lohan, the latter of whom appears as herself in order to secure her reputation as a sentient, barely self-aware, Hollywood punchline. When the Scary Movie pictures began, it wasn't perfect (see Scary Movie 2 for proof of that), but at least it had aspirations greater than becoming the "Now That's What I Call Music" of pop-culture humor; writer/director Keenan Ivory Wayans managed to slip in a little social/racial edge, and he got inspired comic turns from the likes of Ana Faris, Regina Hall, and Marlon Wayans. But Wayans has left the series, and Malcolm D. Lee and writers David Zucker & Pat Proft have not been particularly distinguished replacements. That's a shame, especially when considering that Lee, Zucker, and Profit's respective filmographies include Undercover Brother, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad, Hot Shots, Airplane, and the wonderful Real Genius - they deserve better than rehashing already-tired Exorcist and Charlie Sheen gags.
Martin Liebman's Blu-ray review eviscerated the film, noting that "a movie like this really doesn't require much of a review. The film, and the entire series, has found a comfortable moneymaking niche which means more are likely incoming so long as they continue to turn a profit, and a healthy one at that. Scary Movie V reportedly earned more than triple its budget back in box office returns, and it certainly wasn't for the quality of the filmmaking, the story it told, or even, probably, the cast. So what's the attraction? It's difficult to say, because from a critical perspective there is no attraction. And from a more subjectively influenced pure entertainment perspective, the movie severely lacks. It's rarely funny (Snoop Dogg does earn a few healthy laughs) and tiresomely treks through the modern horror landscape with little structure and even less purpose. The film drags as it rips Horror and popular culture. It spends a shockingly significant amount of its time showing "time lapsed" footage and it still crawls along so slowly that its eighty-some minute runtime feels significantly longer. The film is almost nothing but exaggerations of already tired popular culture references that just add up to a lot of noise accompanied by a familiar face or two. The plays on the better movies feel more forced than funny, though the lengthy 'on-off' Evil Dead segment shows some potential but comes up well short of what might have been."
i missed EPIC in the theater so what a nice surprise it was when my digibook came in the mail and i actually enjoyed it. Don't know why people were hating on it but Im very happy with my blind Buy. only thing i wish is that Jerry Gold smith was alive to do the score like say a Secret of Nimh