Accentuate the negative.
The picture of the year!
Veni, vidi, vici.
“Surreal and mysterious, in a career that was dominated by surrealism and mystery.”
The spotlight’s not for everyone.
Party Like a Mother
WARNING: This motion picture contains explicit portrayals of violence; sex; violent sex; sexual violence; clowns and violent scenes of violent excess, which are definitely not suitable for all audiences.
Be Groovy. Be Very Groovy. Back in 2008, we suddenly because as far away, historically, from the start of The Wonder Years as The Wonder Years was from its starting place in 2968. Sometime in 2010, we approached the moment in which we were as far away as Dazed And Confused was from the Bicentennial when it was released. It will only be a few years (2020, to be exact) until we’re at the same place with That ’70s Show, which started in 1998, 22 years away from its opening in 1976. Aside from making viewers feel old, this little tidbit should also suggest that the show, which launched several careers, should have received its definitive presentation already. That feeling doubles when we take into account the fact that this is the second release of the complete series on Blu-ray. It’s a mixed improvement over the previous release, and still short of definitive. That ’70s Show opens in May of 1976, in a suburb of Green Bay, Wisconsin, where six teenagers spend the latter half of the 1970s getting into sitcom-worthy hijinks and living through the best and worst the 1970s have to offer. The 90s will forever be the decade of Friends and Seinfeld in terms of sitcom titans. They also represent twin poles of what a sitcom could do or be. Friends ruled the airwaves by creating a NYC that did not, by any stretch of the imagination, exist. But the stories of a few friends living the dream (or not) in the big city appealed to a wide part of the viewership because most people either wanted to be part of the Freinds group, or knew people like that. Sienfeld, in contrast, took place in an equally-imaginary NYC, but it’s willingness to be weird and off-putting, with characters unlike anyone viewers were likely to know. That ’70s Show seems to have learned a bit from both camps. The very concept of a show that takes place two decades in the past, with all the attendant meta-commentary of using pop culture trends and calling out previous sitcoms, smacks of a Seinfeldian “episode about nothing” vibe. On the other side, though, That 70s Show swings for the likability-style fences of Friends. We all know somebody who is like one of the characters on the show. That, ultimately, is what That 70s Show stakes its legacy on. Rarely has such a likeable bunch of actors been assembled for a sitcom. Even when the show’s plots meander or the jokes fall flat, there’s something enjoyable about hanging out with these characters, and that’s a rare feat for a sitcom to achieve. The fact that more of That 70s Show‘s actors have gone on to post-show fame than Seinfeld and Friends combined (depending, of course, how you measure it – but at least Kutcher and Kunis have become A-listers, whereas only Aniston has been able to open a movie herself between her 90s castmates). Fans have already had multiple opportunities to own That 70s Show. There were releases of all eight seasons on DVD, followed by the first two seasons on Blu-ray before a full-series box set on Blu-ray. Mill Creek Entertainment has been responsible for the show on Blu-ray so far, and this release is their second attempt at a complete run of the series. Theoretically, this set’s presentation should be a bit stronger. We’ve got 200 episodes spread over 16 discs, which is a decent amount of room for the 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfers. We also get a slight upgrade in that one episode (“The Kids Are Alright”) has been sourced from an NTSC rather than a PAL master. Two minor episode image updates have been made as well. Overall, however, the show looks about the same, and that’s not a bad thing. Detail is pretty strong, with 70s patterns coming through with a lot of nuance. Colors can verge on oversaturation, but overall keep the period entails looking appropriate. As with most sitcoms, the show is generally pretty bright, so black levels never really get tested. Yes, super fans might wish for a complete remastering from the original negatives, but overall the show looks good here. The set’s DTS-HD 5.1 audio tracks are equally good. Though everyone remembers the fashion of the 1970s, the sounds of the era are just as important for conjuring the show’s atmosphere. Dialogue stays clean and clear from the front, while the surrounds get used for things like audience laughter. The songs that appear sound rich and detailed as well, as does the show’s own score. This set keeps the previous audio commentary tracks, but loses the two discs of video-based extras. That ’70s Show doesn’t re-define the sitcom formula. It’s a solid product of its time and place, but it trades a lot on nostalgia to push both comedic and sympathetic buttons. If you’re not particularly fond of the actors (I, for instance, have never been particularly thrilled by Topher Grace) then the appeal of the show will drop proportionally. That ’70s Show is a solid example of what a decent sitcom can accomplish. It’s got its share of laughs and more than a few moments of well-earned poignancy. This Blu-ray set is a fine way to own the show, but if you’ve already got the previous set there’s no reason to switch. In fact, the disappearance of the two discs of extras makes the previous set preferable to fans. THE VERDICT Could be better, but not guilty.
A murderously funny story.
Saturday morning at the movies.
A pair of silent gems.
Inspired by an incredible but true story!
Do your ‘wurst…
You won’t believe this one!
A story of chance.
Winner takes all!
“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”
They make something wonderful out of being alive!
The strangest things can happen suddenly.
High-octane mediocrity. Here’s an interesting situation. If you compare the Rotten Tomatoes average score with the IMDB user rating you get two very different stories. Now I’m not one to wholly subscribe to either metric as a bulletproof way to gauge a film’s worth, but here’s what’s interesting: RT has Death Race 2050 at 100% fresh (out of six reviews) and and the IMDB user scale clocks in at a paltry 3.6 out of 10 stars. That’s quite the discrepancy. And, honestly, I’m square on the IMDB user side–why anyone finds this film compelling is beyond me. The latest installment in the Death Race franchise attempts to return the series to its outlandish, campy, black-comedy roots that appears to have largely evaporated with the most recent remakes. The year is 2050 and Earth has become overpopulated. To thin out the people herd, the Death Race unleashes mayhem on the elderly, as drivers rack up points by mowing down geriatric bystanders. This year, each driver is paired with a sidekick who totes VR headsets to give home viewers the chance to live vicariously through their terrible deeds. As usual, the main stud behind the wheel is Frankenstein (Manu Bennett, Arrow), the enigmatic, leather-clad sociopath who routinely leads the wold in Death Race points. But there’s something off with this year’s Race. There’s a resistance afoot, an underground movement to topple the corporation that controls the Race and controls the people. As the carnage piles up and the big, fat, greedy fanbase devours the destruction, he ground-level combat turns into a fight for something that maybe, kind of, sort of looks like liberty. Look, Death Race 2050 tries real hard. Real hard. And that’s the problem. In its efforts to achieve full-on cult status, the strains of contrivance show throughout its runtime. The satire is about as on the nose as it gets (corporations own the country!) and the humor is broader than Lake Huron (look at that fat person eat a giant hot dog!). Add to that the assumed-necessary ingredients for schlock, like random, anonymous breasts and gore effects. Though I will say much of the gore was practical, so a tip of the hat to the special effects crew. On the other hand virtually all of the car action was CGI so, poop. In the end, Death Race 2050 just ended up being a cacophonous mess, a desperate attempt to take the excesses of the original and pump them full of silicone and red food coloring. I say this with no joy in my heart; we can always use more schlock in our lives and I’m always pulling for Manu Bennett. But this one’s running on fumes. THE VERDICT Turbo-jalopy. Save
Two classic silent films in one great package!
“To you, I’m an atheist. To God, I’m the loyal opposition.”
Lost in spays. Here’s this movie called Star Paws. I was morbidly intrigued, mainly because of the cover which looks less like the art of a coherent children’s film and more like a graphical transcription of Jim Henson’s fever nightmare. The way it plays out makes even less sense. The best I can make out is that millions of years ago there was a magic bone or something and it holds the key to dog and cat future and two warring factions of domesticated pets far in the future are racing each other to travel back to get it. And here’s how it plays out: a few dogs are positioned in front of a green screen and they stare blankly ahead while some does a voice-over. The animals’ mouths do not move however (no doubt due to budget constraints), which makes for a bizarre scene. That is, you’re just staring at someone’s dog staring back at you while a voice mumbles in the background. The super cats or action cats or whatever are even worse, crudely rendered computer generated images that appear to have been produced on the back of a 1994 Amiga. The technical shortfalls or not, Star Paws is still an abject failure, especially as a piece of kids entertainment. It’s boring, unfunny, and bizarre, making for a disgusting cocktail that virtually any child will spit back in your face with the velocity of a solar flare. But, don’t take my word for it. I interviewed a member of the target audience, my six year-old daughter: THE VERDICT As enjoyable an experience as being caught in the middle of a collapsing star.
Punching! Renee Zellweger (Cold Mountain) returns to the character that made her a icon in the Realm of Everlasting Chick Flicks. In this third installment in the Bridget Jones franchise, Bridget encounters that most reliable of romcom conceits: the ticking biological clock. When we first meet Bridget, she’s 43, single and as klutzy and frumpy as always. Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) is married to another woman and that “other guy” is presumed dead. With all of BJ’s friends and family applying baby pressure, Bridget throws up her hands, decides to bang some random billionaire (Patrick Dempsey), then bangs Mark when he confesses an upcoming divorce and before you know it: baby bump. What ensues is the standard-issue comedy of errors that we’ve come to expect from these movies, as well as the old stand-by–a couple of good-looking, presumably smart men fighting like eight-year-olds over Bridget Jones. But what do I know? I enjoyed the first film a good deal and passed on the second, so maybe I’m not the intended audience. As such, I decided to bring in our resident Bridget Jones expert: my wife, Carey. So, what did you think of Bridget Jones’s Baby? It was entertaining enough, though relatively predictable. It doesn’t relate to the third book in any way. Of course the third book wasn’t that great anyway. Now, it did follow the standard elements of the first one, which is what people like. Jokes about her exercising, her diet, being single. Renee Zellweger was fine. She’s obviously used to the role and it showed. I guess, it just felt like a regular old romcom. Since so many have been so bad in the last ten years, this rises to the top because the rest of the field was so horrible. But, really, that’s not saying much. That being said, it was definitely better than the second film. How was Patrick Dempsey? He was good. Not as good as Hugh Grant. But he was fine. How about Colin Firth? Standard Darcy work from him. He was still uptight, but heartfelt and when he chooses to let his guard down. How would you rank the Bridget Jones movies? 1-3-2. The second once was terrible. It sort of followed the second book, but the ending was completely different. I don’t even remember loving the second book that much, but the film was was rough. One is the best by far. Is this the end of the Bridget Jones saga for you? I ‘d read another book if it came out and watch another movie if it came out, but the first movie and book were so funny, they all just can’t match up. . THE VERDICT Not Guilty–but just another romcom.
“Walter, you’re wonderful, in a loathsome sort of way.”