Dave Johnson

Caltiki: The Immortal Monster (Blu-ray)

Il Blobbo. Back in 1959 the Italians gave to us a nasty little black and white treat (with a fantastic name): Caltiki: The Immortal Monster.  The story is simple enough: a group of archaeologists are excavating an ancient Mayan ruin and over the course of their exploration they run across a terrifying discovery. Something is lurking in the lake and it’s hungry. That something is–you guessed it–Caltiki the Immortal Monster. What is Caltiki? Hard to figure that out considering the budget limitations but as far as I can tell, it’s a giant velour blob with insides that look like the oral cavity of a Muppet. Regardless, once Caltiki gets cranking there’s no stopping him. He takes a bite out of one hapless archaeologist, instantly dissolving his arm into a gross melange of goopy 1950s practical effects. Eventually the good guys nuke the monster with some fire but make the mistake of bringing back a sample to civilization. You can probably surmise what happens next (hint: it’s in the monster’s name). 76 minutes later you’ll be back to your normal life, but you won’t forget Caltiki. Or maybe you will. It’s a fairly forgettable movie, made relevant primarily because of its vintage chops and a few cute little scenes were some dudes get digested by the monster. It’s definitely worth scoping our if you consider yourself a creature feature completionist (Arrow’s tricked-out special edition Blu-ray will more than satisfy you!), but all other potential viewers probably could find something more productive to do with their time. THE VERDICT Decente.

Down on the Farm (DVD)

Pure manure. Have you ever had a day so hard and crappy the only salve that would sooth you hollowed-out, blackened soul is to see the looks of pure disappointment on someone with a cheerful disposition. Well, have I got the balm for you, oh miserable bastard. It’s called Down on the Farm and park some bubbly kid in front of the TV, show him the disc cover with the cheerful cartoon farm animals, pop the disc in, and press play–and watch the word “crestfallen” transpire in real time. What a waste of time this is. Down on the Farm has no discernible plot. Well, maybe it’s got a tiny, discernible plot. And here it is: Oink the Flying Pig and Boink the Owl are looking for a missing bale of hay. They proceed to interview multiple farm animals to track down the hay. Along the way they learn facts about the animals. Then they find the hay. The end! That’s it. Just a steady succession of hastily animated farm animals belching out fun facts ripped straight from the pages of Ranger Rick. I have no idea what child would want to stick around to endure this informative-slideshow-masquerading-as-a-fun-family-movie, but there was apparently enough of a focus test market to prompt its creation. I have no doubt in mind, that those kids in the focus groups will be just as flummoxed as bored as I was. THE VERDICT Guilty. Slaughter them all.

Bullet Train (Blu-ray)

Proto-SPEED. Before there was Keanu Reeves lopping the head off of Dennis Hopper, there was this, the original “keep the public transportation conveyance going above XX miles an hour or something’s blowing up real good” movie. Bullet Train raced through Japanese theaters in 1975 and forever allowed the people at Amtrak to point in its direction and say “Hey, it could be worse!” Ken Takakura pays the madman who plants a bomb on one of Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train expresses. If the train drops below 80 kph, it’s KABLOOIE for the train and the hundreds of passengers. Fighting against his malevolent devices is a bad-ass train engineer played by legendary Sonny Chiba. That’s your movie–the train rockets forward and a bunch of people scream their heads off and back at home base, the nerds scramble to save lives and the cops spring their manhunt to find the bad guy. All in all, Bullet Train is an okay 70s-era disaster, but a pair of sizable demerits drop the rating: It’s too long. This bad boy runs a whopping 152 minutes, which is just too hefty for a simple thriller/actioner like this. The nature of a train, limited by the tracks, kind of short circuits the number of cool, death-defying scenarios that can happen, versus, say, a bus. See, at the end of the day that’s what the upshot of Bullet Train is for me–it made we want to watch Speed immediately. And that’s just what I did when this movie ended. Thank you Bullet Train! The Twilight disc (that you probably won’t find in stores): 1080p, 2.35:1, a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio (Japanese), an isolated music and effects track (for some reason, and a featurette. THE VERDICT Guilty of taking it’s sweet-balls time getting to the destination.

Bleed for This (Blu-ray)

Don’t call it a comeback.   I always like stumbling on a biopic of  a person I never herd of whose story is unbelievably awesome. Hacksaw Ridge springs to mind. Also, The Karate Kid Part III.  When it comes to boxing, a sport I have only a fleeting knowledge of thanks mostly to Mike Tyson’s Punch-out, there are a metric ton of amazing true-life sagas out there to discover (at least for me to discover). So here we have Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller). Bleed for This tells his story. In the early ’80s Vinny Pazienza (also known as Vinny Paz) was a legit fighter, winning the junior middleweight world title in 1991. But then a brutal head-on car collision derailed his career–and almost ended his life. Unwilling to relinquish boxing, Vinny embarked on an on-its-face ludicrous comeback attempt, even thought he was spending every day in a neck stabilizer. Despite everyone’s best (sane) efforts to convince him to just retire and try to recapture a normal life that didn’t have a pervasive threat of forever paralysis, Vinny worked at achieving his goal: getting back into the ring for a shot at boxing immortality. This is a pretty good one. I’m not the biggest Miles Teller fan in the world, but the guy brings it in Bleed for This. He’s just a ball of obnoxious defiance and smugness and his Vinny Paz becomes a fascinating on-screen sight to behold. Thankfully, the film has more going for it than just a bad-ass performance. The story of this comeback is insane, especially as you see Miles Teller decked out in the “Halo” neck stabilizer, the real-life apparatus that screwed directly into Vinny’s skull. What makes Bleed for This worth chasing down, especially if you’ve got “boxing movie fatigue,” is the true-life nature of t his comeback. It’s simply incomprehensible the ambition it takes for a human being to climb back into a the ring to get his brains bashed in just a few months after suffering such a gruesome accident. You get that whole trajectory here, anchored by Teller’s great performance, and capped with an exciting final boot with WBC World Jr. Middleweight Champion Luis Santana. Soup to nuts, Bleed for This works, both as a straight-up sports movie and an examination of what the human spirit is capable of, screws and all. THE VERDICT Not Guilty.Seriously, this guy is crazy.

Edge of Eternity (Blu-ray)

Gold + Guano + Grand Canyon. From Twilight Time, a remastered version of the 1959 thriller that, because it’s Twilight Time, you won’t be able to buy. But, hey, that’s your problem. Anyway: it’s Arizona, specifically the Grand Canyon, and some dead bodies are starting to turn up. Enterprising–and smoldering!–Deputy Les Martin (Cornel Wilde) sticks his nose into the mystery and begins to uncover a hive of corruption and betrayal. At center of it? You guess it: gold. Apparently, there’s some gold to be had an old mine and someone has got the glitter-eye so bad, he’s been offing locals. As Martin investigates he meets the lovely Janice Kendon (Victoria Shaw), a kindred spirit and teammate in mayhem. Eventually, the investigation culminated with a legit-impressive done-for-real fight on a U.S. Guano bucket hauler that’s crossing the Grand Canyon (mixed with some bodaciously awful  rear-projection effects). I don’t get the title–“Edge of Eternity” strikes me more as a 30 Seconds to Mars B-side–but this little film is a fun slice of cinematic action history. In these days of Bayhem and whatnot, where your senses are so thoroughly pulverized by two and a half hours worth of gonzo action, a film with a modest runtime (77 minutes), an uncomplicated plot (bad guy wants gold, kills people, gets dropped into the Grand Canyon), and an absolutely gorgeous female lead (seriously, Victoria Shaw, in all her flamboyant Technicolor glory is a stunner) is a welcome retreat. That’s what Edge of Eternity is: a short, simple, streamlined throwback thriller (throwback is wrong of course as this was already thrown back at the time of its production). It won’t remain in your thoughts for long, but if you want a nicely staged, decently-acted (have I mentioned how beautiful Victoria Shaw is??) mystery film with a stand-out stunt sequence and a buttload of aerial photography of the Grand Canyon, here you go. Good disc from Twilight Team, starting with the rich 1080p. 2.35:1 transfer, a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, and extras including an isolated music score and audio commentary with a pair of film historians. That said, good luck trying to find it! THE VERDICT Not Guilty. Add this to your bucket list.

Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Super Shredder (DVD)

Ninja kick the damn rabbit. Always the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They are forever. They are eternal. They are Legion. I don’t know how many iterations of the heroes in a half shell the collective pop culture consciousness can absorb, but from my perch, the answer is quite obviously: all of them.  All of the iterations. Geez man, I remember dive-bombing  my Donatello action figure from the top of our house deck way back when–and I just turned 40 two weeks ago! Those Turtles have staying power and no matter the generation there appears to a real thirst for the continued chop-socky adventures of gang green. Here now is yet another version, Nickelodeon’s Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I won’t claim that I’ve been paying studious attention to all the different TMNT series that have popped up over the years–but I have a decent grasp of most of them (having reviewed more than my share). Where does this installment stand? Well, it’s definitely more bizarre, somewhat darker, a tad more subversive, and loaded with aliens and demons and mutants. Also, April O’Neil is apparently a telekinetic X-Man or something. Together (and with old friend Casey Jones) our heroes unleash their usual wisecracks and martial artistry in service of one outlandish story after another. And the center of it all is a roided-up Shredder, who seems be juicing on the Bane Venom from Batman and Robin. Despite an upping of amperage in the weirdness department, Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles still feels like a standard-issue TMNT excursion. The personalities are largely the same (save for April who’s been freed of both the yellow jumpsuit and the annoying tendency to contextualize everything in how it would benefit her reporting career) and you’re essentially still seeing everyone smack around cannon fodder and the occasional Bebop and Rocksteady. Shredder is pretty cool here, essentially an insane monster more than a ninja with a grudge. So, really, more of the same. If you’re a TMNT fanatic and need everything shell, have at it. As far as the prime audience I’d say there’s enough edge here to entertain the higher range of grade schoolers, without it seeming lame. It’s probably a bit heavy-duty for the really little ones though. The DVD set: two discs, 11 half-hour episodes, and nothing else. THE VERDICT Not Guilty. But I feel like we’ve all been here before.

The Take (Blu-ray)

It’s okay Idris. You got the Bond gig. Also known as Bastille Day The Take puts our guy Idris Elba (Star Trek Beyond) smack into the middle of a terror-ridden Paris. Bombs are going off, explosions are taking out civilians, and the populace is paralyzed with crippling fear. Meanwhile, a dashing pickpocket named Michael Mason (Richard Madden, Game of Thrones) finds himself inadvertently wrapped up in these violent shenanigans, making himself a pivotal asset that the CIA desperately needs. And that’s where agent Sean Briar (Elba) comes into play. He’s dispatched by his superiors in Langley to babysit Mason and keep his intel safe and sound. Which kicks off a buddy adventure, as these two race against time to untangle the mystery behind the terror attacks, which–surprise!!!–may not be the work of actual terrorists but the nefarious Old White Man Cabal… Here’s the straight dope: The Take is about as milquetoast a thriller as you can get for a movie about Paris being assaulted by terrorists (and yes, this film was released unsettlingly close to the actual terrorist events in Paris). Even with out the awkward contemporary source material, this film just doesn’t have enough juice to separate itself from the pack. Look, I’m all about Robb Stark, but Richard Madden should doesn’t bring much energy to the proceedings here. He’s supposed to be giving us a sly outlaw with charm to spare (for crying out loud he convinces his girlfriend to walk the streets naked for a pickpocket distraction!), but in the end he coughs up a character with the charm of a bran muffin. Then we’ve got Idiris Elba, who’s awesome, and you don’t need me to tell you that. And while I’m all on board for him taking on the 007 mantle if the wants it, there’s not a ton worth talking about here with his efforts. It’s mainly his character, who was written as a standard-issue tough guy agent. A such, we’ve got a going-through-the-motions approach. In fact, all of The Take is pretty much “going through the motions.” There’s aren’t a lot of surprises and virtually nothing memorable as far as action scenes go. if you’re an Elba completionist or want to see what the Young Wolf has been up to since the Red Wedding, this might be worth your time. Everyone else? Not much to see here. THE VERDICT Guilty. Take a breather.

Easter Sunday (DVD)

Rotten egg I have to reluctantly give credit to the to the sly dogs at Camp Motion Pictures. they preyed upon my eagerness to lose myself in a bad ’80s horror movie and marketed this turd perfectly: Easter Sunday is presented with a retro look, as if it were a DVD reissue of an old-school VHS slasher pic, perhaps unearthed from your nearby, now-defunct video store. But, alas, that is not the case. Easter Sunday is a straight-up low-budget, homegrown movie. Like, low, low, low budget; Teen Ape style movie-making (if you don’t get the reference, consider yourself lucky and move on with your life). So here’s the dope: a couple of decades ago a serial killer was put to death. Fast forward to current day and a group of inebriated dinks party hearty around the campfire and inadvertently resurrect the guy, who proceeds to go on a killing spree while wearing a giant Easter Bunny head. That’s all you have to know. What ensues is a melange of dark, dodgy sequences featuring amateur actors bellowing out their cries of anguish while a dud with a mask and red eyes attacks them with various things. It’s a completely forgettable experience from top to bottom and offers almost nothing as far as additive value to the horror genre–aside from some sporadically grotesque gore effects. THE VERDICT Guilty. Eating Peeps is a more satisfying experience.

Blaze and the Monster Machines: Race into Velocityville (DVD)

Blaze up, bro Here we have another batch of episodes from Nick Jr.’s high-octane kids show. Blaze and the Monster Machines relays the adventures of a talking, living monster truck named Blaze who has a kid named AJ riding shotgun wherever he goes, which, to be honest seems a little weird. Anyway–who am I to argue with physics? Especially since Blaze is all abut introducing early concepts of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to the kiddos. So, hey, they’d know a lot more about the science behind the unholy union between man and machine. So this DVD has six episodes: RACE CAR BLAZE RACE TO EAGLE ROCK SKY TRACK THE WISHING WHEEL THE HUNDRED MILE RACE THE POLAR DERBY Not much  more to say, really. You get six random episodes, generally held together by the common thread of these machines going incredibly fast. As a dad, I have much respect for Blaze. My preschool-aged son is absolutely bonkers for all things monster truck and this show serves it up with aplomb. Add to that the the educational element–which, honestly, is not simply tacked on to help the Nick Jr. suits sleep at night; the STEM stuff is legit and a core of the program–and you’ve got a children’s show any parent would be good with. THE VERDICT Not Guilty. Vrooom.

Moby Dick (Blu-ray)

The whale is feeling Peckish John Huston’s legendary telling of Herman Melville’s classic story of blubber and metaphors lands on a Twilight Time Blu-ray, which, of course, means that by the time you read this all available copies will have long since left retail, only to be later found somewhere buried deep within the submerged catacombs of Oak Island. You know the story: Ishmael is the lone survivor of a lost whaling vessel. He brings back with him the unbelievable story of a violent encounter with an ill-tempered white whale–as well as the saga of pathological, one-legged vengeance in the form of Captain Ahab (Gregory Peck). Through storms and whale hunting and oil boiling and blubber harvesting the crew of the Pequod power through, willing to follow their maniacal captain to the gates of watery Hell. They, of course, get their wish eventually as Ahab leads them right into the teeth of the fearsome Moby Dick. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Moby Dick, but this one holds up well. The sense of adventure on the high seas is present and accounted for, even if it is obvious that much of the whale-on-man action was filmed with miniatures in a water tank. But, hey, there’s something cool about this practical, nuts-and-bolts movie-making. And the final confrontation with the great whale still manages to be a thriller (even if it’s obvious it’s dolls in a tub). Of course, it’s all about Gregory Peck, who brings a gravitas and a half to the role of Captain Ahab. The guy cuts a mean figure with his pegleg and nautical beard and unbridled desire deliver all of his dialogue with a salty, guttural bellow. His final descent into madness in the final battle is still a sight to behold. Solid presentation from Twilight Time: 1.66:1, 1080p and a 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio are joined by a featurette on the creation of Moby Dick (the whale), an isolated score track, a film historians commentary. THE VERDICT Thar she blows. Not Guilty. Save

Quarry: Season 1 (Blu-ray)

Packing a (period) piece. Hey, you know what network has the best original TV shows going right now? It’s not HBO. It’s HBO’s horny, hyperactive cousin, Cinemax. I’ve been a Max devotee since Strike Back Season 2 blew me away, with the unsheathed, pulpy id of Banshee close behind. Even The Max’s dalliance with gothic horror–the bizarre, engrossing Outcast–was a humdinger. Now the network is back with something else daring and unique, a show unlike anything else you’ll find anywhere. Quarry is based on the the potboiler mystery novels by Max Allan Collins, which tells the story of a recently returned Vietnam vet and the trouble he finds in his hometown in Memphis. Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) is back after serving two years in Vietnam. He returns under a cloud of controversy as his unit had been fingered for war crimes. The life as he knows it has evaporated; his wife Joni (Jodi Balfour) was unfaithful, no one wants to hire him for work and, worse, his best friend and former squadmate gets himself killed trying to be a hitman. Mac finds himself drawn into the seedy world of contact killing, pressed into working for a mysterious man known only as The Broker, forced to pay down his friend’s debt and save his family. As you can imagine, this leads to all manner of unsavory situation and domestic mishap and before it all ends, Quarry will have to face his own demons. And there are demons aplenty in this broody, atmospheric series, an eight-episode tour de force that kept me utterly transfixed the whole time. There weren’t humongous explosions or colorful villains or outlandish plot threads or sex galore or any of the elements you might think would characterize a Cinemax show. No, Quarry is a hardboiled, gritty, ultra-realistic drama, a tale of a broken man with a damaged soul who can’t extricate himself from his violent past or the promise of a violent future. The acting is top-shelf throughout, headlined by Marshall-Green as the tortured anti-hero (and I mean anti) and Balfour as his desperate wife. The two are exceptional talents and their relationship offers as compelling a caricature of a troubled, but loving marriage. Their connection is the emotional core of the show and it works brilliantly. The thrust of the narrative is Quarry’s attempts to negotiate the dark corridors of his new, bloody profession, while trying to preserve his relationship with his wife. Meanwhile, he’s being tracked by a tenacious law officer and The Broker is funneling him towards deadlier and deadlier contracts. It’s all set against the backdrop of the racial powder-keg that is ’70s Memphis. Quarry takes it time to let its plot breathe; this isn’t a slam-bang action thrill ride. But hang with it and you’ll be richly rewarded with some of the very best performances on television, a unique setting, a story that builds gravity a it rolls on and, finally, a one-shot Vietnam War flashback sequence that rivals True Detective’s gold standard continuous sequence. Great Blu-ray set: pristine video (1.78:1, 1080p) and audio (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) joined by audio commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, music videos and interviews. THE VERDICT Hard-boiled mustachioed goodness. Not Guilty.

Death Race 2050 (Blu-ray)

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

Star Paws (DVD)

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.

The Search for Weng Weng (DVD)

He’s tough, he’s tender, he’s three feet tall. A few years ago, the greatest movie ever made was sent to my house. That movie? For Your Height Only. Bequeathed to the universe in 1981, For Your Height Only is a playful James Bond knock-off from the Philippines, starring Weng Weng, a three-foot tall man with a tremendous bowl-cut. The movie’s one of my all-time favorite bizarro cult oddities, and much of the credit is due to Weng Weng, who just turns in a hilariously earnest performance, terrible dubbing and all. Apparently I wasn’t the only on smitten by the little dude’s charisma. Andrew Leavold, an Australian lover of cult cinema, made it his mission to unearth the story of Weng Weng. So he hauled his cameras to the Philippines and kick-started his way to this, the most comprehensive documentary on diminutive Filipino action heroes ever created. But The Search for Weng Weng turns out to be a lot more than a simple biography of  a little-known B-movie mini-celeb. Leavold ends up opening his story up to cover the breadth of the Philippines movie-making scene n the late 1970s and early 1980s–the ups an downs, the unsavory dealings, the political maneuverings, even the underbelly, which one might even classify as seedy. Leavold gets his camera in front of a lot of the old players on the industry and they’re more than happy to dish. Which was all well and good, but if I’m honest–I don’t really care a whole lot about this particular subject matter. Kudos to Leavold for being exhaustive with his lens but give me the Weng Weng goods bro! Eventually, he does get his narrative re-configured and we get the rest of the story on the little guy, both from his family and his colleagues. And…it’s a bit of a downer to honest. The guy never really got to enjoy his dough or, really, his short-term fame, thanks to some weird relationship with his producers. In the end, as much as I’m a fan of Weng Weng and, particularly, For Your Height Only, I left this documentary feeling bummed. So, I guess it’s good that his story was told…right? THE VERDICT Not Guilty. Good documentary. Sorta sad though. And maybe a little pointless.

Bridget Jones’s Baby (Blu-ray)

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.

Eliminators (Blu-ray)

Punching! Scott Adkins, I am convinced, is one of our more underrated action stars. That is, I’m not sure if he registers at all on anyone’s “household name radar” and that’s a shame. The guy is one-man special effect and what he might lack in raw acting chops he more than makes up for with an ability to jump high into the air and extend his legs out in such a way as to cause moderate to severe damage to someone’s face. So anytime a new Adkins movie comes down the pike, I take notice. The latest is Eliminators, a WWE Film that pits pro wrestler Wade Barrett against Adkins in a film that promises…well, massive beatings. And that’s pretty much what we get. Adkins plays Thomas, a one-time special agent in witness protection. Due to a tragic misunderstanding with some young local toughs, his cover is blown and the gangster looking for his head springs into action. He dispatches his most fearsome assassin, Bishop (Wade Barrett) to rub Thomas out. With Thomas’s only daughter held in the balance and the ever-present threat of Bishop, Thomas races to keep his family alive, find safety and, ultimately, make it to the end credits in once piece. That’s your movie and as far as direct-to-video productions, Eliminators isn’t bad. Adkins brings the requisite amount of pummeling to the festivities and Wade Barrett proves to be a worthy, physically imposing counterweight to his polished movie fight skills. If you’ve seen the Adkins brand of fighting before you know he adds a decent amount of flash to his hijinks. In Eliminators the choreography is more grounded. No wire work, no CGI-enhanced stuff, and only a handful of the Adkins trademark flip-kicks. Still–it works. If you’re not looking for all-out flash, there is a decent amount to enjoy here. The simple conceit of a dad wanting to protect his daughter proves enough of a motive driver for our hero and the stakes are robust enough to keep things a few degrees north of superficial. And the final bad guy showdown is worth your while. THE VERDICT Not Guilty. Enjoy this steady Adkins diet of pummeling.

The Grinder Season 1 (DVD)

Grinded to a halt. Last year, Fox put out a pair of promising half-hour, laugh-track-free sitcoms: John Stamos’s Grandfathered and this, Rob Lowe’s foray into headlining his own show. For a while Grandfathered and The Grinder got regular play in the Johnson household. But then…slowly but surely…we tuned out. The problem? Both were built entirely on a single gag that couldn’t sustain an entire series. For the Stamos show it was “lifetime-bachelor-50-something-refuses-to-grow-up;” and for The Grinder, well…let’s start from the beginning. Rob Lowe is Dean Sanderson, a famous TV actor who was known for his hot-shot lawyer character “The Grinder” on The Grinder (the fake show, not this series). Done with the superficial Hollywood game, he returns to his hometown to take up with his real lawyer brother Stewart (Fred Savage). Smitten with quaint, small-town life, Dean convinces Stewart to let him stick around, working as some kind of bizarre consultant to offer spice to the straight-laced law practice. And like that we’re off and running–to an eventual cancellation. Which is a shame, because this show has a good heart and at time s can be laugh-out-loud-funny. Rob Lowe’s ultra-slick, blissfully-self-unaware Dean is one of the more charismatic and likeable creations we’ve seen on network TV in some time. Fred Savage’s Stewart has his moments, but he’s essentially reduced to straight man duties with a sporadic helping of full-blown-neuroses. So charming leads, funny jokes and William Devane–what’s the problem then? It’s the temporary nature of the gag. Every plot rests on the juxtaposition of Dean’s earnest ceaselessness bailing out a trial (or some permutation of this conceit). There are wrinkles, and role switches, and romances and even a slam-bang recurring bit from Timothy Olyphant–but in the end there just isn’t enough to keep the train moving. We eventually lost interest and it was obvious we weren’t the only ones.  So The Grinder bids us farewell and we tip our hat–you had some potential, but in the end, you just couldn’t grind your way to a season 2 order. THE VERDICT No Guilty. Also, not on the air anymore.  

The Last King (Blu-ray)

Scandinavian slaloming, Dark Ages style. The Middle Ages had a lot of wild and woolly stuff going on, usually on a daily basis. Kings rose and fell. Cities were sacked. Civilizations were wiped out. And strep throat went untreated, subjecting millions of people to everlasting gullet discomfort. This era of humanity, while sucky for all who lived it no doubt, remains one of my favorites.  Human history pivoted in inexorable directions this stretch and entire cultures thrived (Saxons!) or fell short of world dominance (Danes!). But, mainly, I liked the Middle Ages because of the movies. The sword-swinging, gut-stabbing, britches-muddying tomfoolery that tends to characterize  these endeavors. So you can understand why I was eager to take The Last King for a spin. Here’s the story: the throne of Norway is up for grabs. There’s an heir, but he’s currently vulnerable to usurpation due to the fact that he happens to be a baby. Some nasty Church bishops have their eyes on the crown so they dispatch all manner of sword-thug to slay the kiddo and secure the throne for their own devious purposes. The only thing standing between the future king and a tiny coffin are two warriors. Together they tote the baby across the snow-swept terrain of Norway, dodging arrows and sword swipes and shield bashes, but mainly they ski. Oh how they ski! Downhill! Uphill! Cross-country! They ski and ski and ski and slaughter and ski! Good movie here. I’m always down for a swashbuckler that happens to feature some historical context from an era I have no clue about. And seeing I’m not as up on my Norwegian royalty succession background, The Last King ladled on some welcome knowledge along with its raw pugilism. Most of you will notice Kristofer Hivju, a.k.a. Jon Snow’s ginger BFF from Game of Thrones. He’s a bit looser here than in the HBO series, but still operates at peak bad-ass. And regardless if you couldn’t pick anyone else out of lineup The Last King stands on its own wind-chapped two legs. The pacing is swift, the action is fun and visceral, the cinematography is gorgeous and the history is cool and interesting. If any of this resides anywhere near your wheelhouse, consider this a recommendation; The Last King offers more than a sleigh-ful of spills and thrills. On Blu-ray, the Norway topography looks dynamite in 108op and the brouhahas ring out in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (in the original Norwegian). THE VERDICT Ikke skyldig.  

A Dogwalker’s Christmas Tale (DVD)

Starship Troopers reunion show!

Iverson (DVD)

The killer crossover.

The Secret Life of Pets (Blu-ray)

What happens in the litter box, stays in the litter box.

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