Hey folks, Harry here with the 1st Picks & Peeks of February 2015! It starts off with a bang, and ends with one helluva great film this week! Hope you enjoy the column! As usual, all the images and links will take you to Amazon, where if you want to learn more or order the disc, you can go right ahead. That also helps support the best efforts of this column, now in its 11th year. Check all the reviews out at PicksAndPeeks.Com where all the columns have been turned into a very cool and handy app for your Android or Idevices! Now, let’s talk about Keanu Reeves kicking ass!
Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015
JOHN WICK Blu Ray
John Wick is a domesticated assassin. A lethal killing machine that had given it all up for the love of a good woman. Sadly, she wasn’t built to last, her last act as the saint in this sinner’s life was to bestow upon him something to care for… Now, you may have seen trailers of Keanu Reeves’ JOHN WICK kicking unholy amounts of ass…. So you know, something sends him off. The dickless wonder from GAME OF THRONES, Alfie Allen does a magnificent job of being an absurdly dumb fuck, who just wanted a car. Kids… let this be a lesson in stealing badass cars, badass cars often have badass owners – and this movie is the revenge fantasy that all victims of loss have been waiting for. Keanu Reeves was born to wade throw low lifes, painting the world blood red with their precious bodily fluids. What sets JOHN WICK apart from almost everything we get to see is the tone. It’s such the sweet spot of “FUCK YEAH!” You know, a film filled with moments that get you pump your fist in the air and scream something crude at your screen. The fighting and the Gun-Fu is just exceptional. I also feel, every single action that JOHN WICK unleashes is completely justified. You just don’t do, what these bastards do and expect to walk the Earth much longer. The Blu Ray looks and sounds beautiful. You get an audio commentary from the directing team of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. You also get over 15 minutes of bts of fight choreography and training. There’s another 12 minute feature that focuses on the initial pitch and 2nd unit Action shooting. Then there’s over 6 minutes focusing on the Directors’ partnership. Then we get 5 minutes of a Hit Man’s world, a featurette focusing on the Nightclub sequence, and another short featurette about the Noir vibe of the film! This is an excellent Blu Ray of a fantastic action film!
DRACULA UNTOLD Blu Ray
You know how UNIVERSAL amped up THE MUMMY, to where there wasn’t an ounce of genuine terror or scares? This is that version of DRACULA. It isn’t all bad… This is attempting to give us a Dracula origin, how did Vlad become Dracula, the supernatural monster? Well, it’s all here. The situation where he willingly made a deal with a devil so he could protect his lands from invaders. Luke Evans plays Dracula as a warrior, but he doesn’t at all exude the passion of say Gary Oldman’s turn. Nor the ferocity of Christopher Lee’s. He’s more… a neutral Dracula. There’s action scenes where he unleashes vampire death upon invading forces again and again and again, and it is obvious there were tons of talent working on this, but the title and the resulting film does leave me wondering if this version of Dracula ever needed telling in the first place. The highlight of the film is Francois Audouy’s production design, the rest just left me flat. There’s an audio commentary between the director and Francois. 20 minutes on Luke Evans’ take on the character. There’s Alternate opening that was pretty bad. Deleted scenes didn’t really do a lot for me, but there’s 13 minutes of em. Then there’s 4 other featurettes, but nothing very captivating. This film just kinda lays there.
PORCO ROSSO Blu Ray
Miyazaki’s Absolute Masterpiece is here on Blu Ray at last! PORCO ROSSO. And for the English audio track, he’s voiced by Michael Keaton!!! Porco is a WWI flying ace, flying with the curse of a pig like visage. But while that might sound like the set up for a very funny film… Miyazaki uses this story to reveal the inner strength of the character to rise above his affliction to be the hero he is. I love PORCO ROSSO, yes, because I’m fat. Because some of you people will never let me forget about it. But, instead I choose to live my life exactly how I choose to. Finding love and my own place. PORCO ROSSO has a lot to teach all of the strange and unusual of the world – not only that, it teaches you perfect people to respect the flying swine of the world! PORCO ROSSO rules! Playing a 35mm original print of this at Butt-Numb-A-Thon was a highlight for me. This Disney Blu has both the new English tracks as well as the original Japanese. The Extras focus on the new celebrity voices, but also give us some of the original Storyboards, as well as an interview with producer Toshio Suzuki! Rejoice, the greatest flying pig of all time is coming home today!!!
ABOUT SCHMIDT Blu Ray
Been a fan of Alexander Payne since CITIZEN RUTH, I’ll never forget getting to review his ELECTION with Roger Ebert on my first show with him and I remember how excited I was when I heard he was going to get to work with Jack Nicholson on his follow up project, ABOUT SCHMIDT. Since then we’ve had SIDEWAYS, DESCENDANTS and NEBRASKA – and it’s safe to say… Alexander Payne has revealed himself to be one hell of a voice in cinema. The film garnered Jack Nicholson his last Academy Award nomination for this all the way back at the 2003 Academy Awards, where he lost to Adrien Brody, who promptly kissed Halle Berry on stage. Brody was tremendous in THE PIANIST, but revisiting ABOUT SCHMIDT on Blu… My cinema loving heart longs for more Jack Nicholson. He’s so good in this… doing his take on what would have surely been a Jack Lemmon role 20 years prior. Also, how great is Kathy Bates in this, she picked up the supporting actress nomination. The disc comes with 9 Deleted scenes and the “Woodmen Tower Sequences” Short Films. If you haven’t seen this film, you deserve the treat that it is! Very funny and sobering. Love this flick!
DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY Blu Ray
Man… 1993. 22 years ago. Crazy. This was Rob Cohen’s knock on Hollywood’s door as a director. Prior to this, he’d been producing films from MAHOGANY (1975-THE WIZ – THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, THE MONSTER SQUAD, SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW and more) I was instantly attracted to the project at the time, because I was a Bruce Lee super freak – and when they cast Jason Scott Lee as Bruce… It kinda lost me a bit, I was really wanting Brandon Lee to play his Dad, but I have to admit, I would totally get why Brandon wouldn’t want the part, especially since he was launching his own career around this time and was trying to create his own story. But, I do enjoy the film. It is just, nobody has made the definitive Bruce Lee story. Just watching the IP MAN films with Donnie Yen… you begin to get the idea, but the real key will be finding the perfect martial artist for the role. It’s kinda why I find myself watching every new martial arts film I can get my hands on. The Blu Ray comes stuffed with a Making of, BTS footage, Jason Lee’s screen test, a Bruce Lee Interview, Storyboards and a Rob Cohen Commentary! The man behind THE FAST & THE FURIOUS… long before. I do hate all the Demon bullshit in this film though. Really do.
TALES FROM EARTHSEA Blu Ray
It is a solid fantasy adaptation, it just isn’t quite as perfect as Hayao has us Ghibli geeks accustomed to. It looks beautiful on Blu Ray, you’re getting some of the storyboards presented on here, a featurette on the music of EARTHSEA and a look into the process it took to get made at Studio Ghibli. I haven’t read the EARTHSEA books yet, but I’m told from fans that the adaptation didn’t come close. I get that, this whole film feels like you’re caught in the midst of something you don’t entirely understand. But, there’s some lovely animation and music here. Wish it was better.
POM POKO Blu Ray
Now this is directed by Isao Takahata, he’s the man behind GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES and the Academy Award nominated THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA, which btw… it is the BEST ANIMATED FILM OF THE YEAR. For baby Princess Kaguya alone. Wow. This film is about the collision between the natural world and modern mankind. Specifically, it’s a tale of Raccoons! That’s right, if you got kids all in love with Rocket Raccoon, here’s some awesome Raccoon entertainment they’ll not soon forget. Forest Magic and urban yuck! Great stuff. Oh – and did I mention CLANCY BROWN has a voice in this? Yeah, so… respect! There’s some of the original Storyboards, but of the 3 Ghibli releases today, it has the less extras, but is the second best film over all. I mean, nothing ever tops PORCO ROSSO. Nothing.
DINER Blu Ray
I saw this at age 10 in 1982 and it bored the living shit out of me. I hated DINER. It was on cable all the time – and I just could never hang with it. Then… I saw the film at the Paramount theater as part of some double feature – and it clicked. The whole thing. This wasn’t PORKY’S or THE OUTSIDERS or TAPS or WARGAMES or FOOTLOOSE or any of those fun or intense tales of young men at the end of the 1950’s. Now… you watch DINER and it is one of the most fascinating films you can watch. Just watching the guys at that table. Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Paul Reiser, Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern and Timothy Daly. A tremendous cast right there – and you get Ellen Barkin ta boot! The Blu has a couple of DVD extras on here, the intro by Barry Levinson, and a 30 minute retrospect doc that was done for the 2000 DVD release. This is a stellar film.
KULL THE CONQUEROR Blu Ray
I can’t watch this film again. It came out in 1997, the second year of AICN. The press screening was at the Highland Galaxy here in Austin. I went to this with my future Best Man at my wedding. It’s terrible beyond any rational belief. Kevin Sorbo is not Kull The Conqueror. He’s not even really HERCULES. He’s bad. But here, he’s woefully bad. Nothing I can say can top what my best bud Roland had to say though, “It was like running up a hill to smell a bucket of shit!” Yup. That’s the film. SO… if you want that experience, here it is in 1080p. You have been warned.
OUIJA Blu Ray
I kinda get silly scared by OUIJA scenes in movies, and I love those old WITCHBOARD films, but the casting in OUIJA is so bland that they really are disposable characters doing the stupidest shit… There’s some scares inherent to creepy ass Ouija boards with me. But everything is telegraphed and halfassed. This was a real disappointment. There’s three 4 minute featurettes that reall are just quite lame. But then, when the film is over you didn’t want to know an extra thing… at least that is how I felt.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY Blu Ray
I haven’t fully explored this Blu Ray, I just saw the film tonight. This is MATURE film. In Jessica Chastain’s room at her parents house, you’ll see a poster for A MAN AND A WOMAN, Ned Benson is shooting for that kind of film, but whereas that film was about two people having each lost their significant other finding each other, this is a different tale of woe. A story of loss, melancholy, despair and the worst times that a couple could go through. The couple being James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain. These two are tremendous in the film. Viola Davis is great as Professor Friedman. William Hurt is ideal for Jessica’s Dad. It was also so wonderful to see Ciaran Hinds as just… A DAD. Not someone out to destroy the world! However, the actor that absolutely buoyed the experience for me, was the great Bill Hader. He plays the best friend, who ceased to be that when both love and tragedy struck in his best friend’s life and now he needs him, and he’s still the same immature geek he was when he found “Eleanor Rigby”. NOW – this is a two Blu Ray set, and that second Blu Ray is a for real treat. First off, on the film’s Blu Ray is a 20+ minute Q&A with McAvoy and Chastain. But the second Blu Ray has the HER & HIM cuts of the film. Independent cuts exclusively from each couple’s perspective. The main film is “THEM”. I haven’t dove into those alternate cuts, but I am actually curious about them and will at some future juncture. That’s just an awful lot of emotional story to wade through as a triple feature. Both of the leads are just beat to hell, they’ve been through the ringer and are in the midst of it, the hardest part. The part that we hope leaves them stronger.
ABCs OF DEATH 2 Blu Ray
Just in time for the new semester, what ever High School Spanish class absolutely probably shouldn’t have, but may be shown by an idiot anyway! Sigh. Can you really believe that news story? Insanity. If you enjoyed the first, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be thrilled by this latest edition. With a director for every letter (or two), you’ll get a variety of styles, from animation to live action to… some shit so weird, I’ll just let you call it. I’m quite fond of Bill Plympton’s H and Alejandro Brugues’ E. Ultimately, it’s a fun horror party flick, and that’s exactly what it was made for, so come have some fun!
STARRY EYES Blu Ray
Just see it. Don’t dive into figuring out what it is. Go in cold with just that image. If you like “The Good Shit” – you’ve just found it. ENJOY! It will blow your mind a little. Heh.
THE OVERNIGHTERS Blu Ray
Watch this documentary, then count your blessings. The America so many of experience is not the same story everyone experiences, not by a long shot. We like to think we’re past the times of Steinbeck, but that old ballad of Tom Joad keeps fighting it’s way to every time. I was heartbroken this didn’t get nominated for the Best Documentary category for the Oscars. This is a story more people need to be aware of. Tremendous film!
LUST FOR LIFE Blu Ray
I just ordered this one for myself. Directed by the great Vincente Minnelli and starring Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh. For some reason they left out that bit about the Doctor we all know, but otherwise, this is a robust telling of an artist that even now… Scientists are freaking out about. Van Gogh’s STARRY NIGHT and Turbulence, look it up, fun stuff there. But here on this Blu Ray, you’ll see Kirk Douglas’ Van Gogh and Anthony Quinn’s Gauguin – and it’s FANTASTIC! Also keep your eyes out for one of my personal fave old character actors, Lionel Jeffries! He always brightens up a picture. But Anthony Quinn actually won Best Supporting Actor for his part here, it’s outstanding! Douglas was nominated for Best Actor but lost on Yul Brynner for THE KING AND I, and I can’t argue with that one. Though Douglas is great here! This disc can’t arrive soon enough!
That’s it for this Tuesday, come back next Tuesday, when I’ll be looking at 101 DALMATIONS (1961) Blu, NIGHTCRAWLER Blu, DON’T LOOK NOW Blu, PREDESTINATION Blu, LOVE AT FIRST BITE / ONCE BITTEN Blu, VAMPIRE’S KISS / HIGH SPIRITS Blu, A DAY IN THE COUNTRY Criterion Blu, LOVE AND DEATH Blu, KILL THE MESSENGER Blu, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING Blu, OLD YELLER Blu, LEGO JUSTICE LEAGUE VS BIZARRO JUSTICE LEAGUE Blu, LENNY Blu, NEKROMANTIK 2 Blu, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD Blu, STRAY DOGS Blu, ROSEWATER Blu, FORCE MAJEURE Blu, F.I.S.T. Blu, TO SIR WITH LOVE Blu, STORMY WEATHER Blu, INTO THE WOODS Blu, AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL Blu and that’s about it!