Monday, September 29, 2014

BLENDED: BACK TOGETHER AGAIN

There have been a number of screen couples over the years that have successfully made fans happy with their frequent appearances together. Who could not love Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn or William Powell and Myrna Loy? If those names are too distant for you to remember how about Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler? It's hard to believe they've only done two movies together before adding their newest BLENDED. Forget the pans the critics hoisted on this film this past summer, this is one hilarious movie. So much so that I saw it twice in the theaters and once so far on DVD.

Barrymore plays Lauren, a divorced mother with two young rambunctious boys who goes on perhaps the worst first date with Jim, a single father raising three young girls. How bad a date? Jim chooses Hooters for their first time out. Things go terribly wrong from their.

As Lauren relates this to her co-worker and best friend Jen (Wendi McLendon-Covey) (the pair own a closet organizing business), it was the worst night possible. Unfortunately Jen is having much better luck in the romance department since her newest beau wants to take her on a trip to Africa. A few days later things take a turn for the worse when Jen tells Lauren she turned down the trip and is thinking of breaking up with her new boyfriend because he wanted to take along all of his kids as well. Of course Lauren thinks this may be just what she and her boys need, a vacation away from it all, so she asks Jen if she can go in their place.

As this is going on, Jim is relaying the same description of the date to his co-worker Doug (Shaquille O'Neal). The two of them work at Dick's Sporting Goods with Jim being one of the best workers in the company. We get a glimpse of his oldest daughter when she stops by, mistaken by a customer as a boy since Jim tends to dress his daughters that way and pushing them to be in more male dominated sports. When Jim learns of his boss's canceling his trip to Africa (yes, he's Jen's new boyfriend), he calls Dick up to see if he can take over the trip while paying what he can. Of course both parties tell their respective friends no problem.

When both sets of families turn up at the high class resort in Africa, their surprised to see one another their. While the families don't know each other Lauren and Jim definitely do. But rather than argue over who stays, they decided to make the best of things and pretend to be the happy family booked for the vacation. Now if they can just stand one another for that amount of time.

We're presented with a mother with two sons lacking a male figure, a father with three daughters missing their mother and lacking a female to influence them in the ways of being a girl. There you have the set up for what is to come. Sure we know up front that this is a chance for all parties to find a nice mix. It's the fulfillment of the potential here that will either make this movie work or fall flat on its face. For myself I thought they did an excellent job, making me laugh, cry and be touched before the end of the film.

I've said before that the best way to tell an actor is good is when you believe them in the role they are playing. I believed that of everyone involved here. And while the leads might take center stage the person who steals the show is Terry Crews as Nickens, the host and entertainment figure at the resort. There wasn't a time when he appeared on screen that I didn't find myself laughing out loud.

There were two reasons I think this movie took such a beating from critics. The first was that it got lost in the shuffle of the summer movies coming out, appearing against some major blockbuster titles, and didn't make as much as expected. Sure it did well but when figures don't reach astronomical highs they consider it a flop. It doesn't matter if it made its money back or not. The second was that this movie isn't high drama or explosive action. It's a simple romantic movie that the entire family can enjoy. I find critics tend to slam those sorts of films unless the name Disney is attached or an animal is the center focus of the film.

There are tons of moments in this movie that had me roaring. As I said I enjoyed it enough that four days after seeing it the first time I was back again. And I enjoyed it as much then as I did the first. The same was true when watching it on DVD. If you're a fan of either actor, if you enjoy family comedies, then please give this one a watch. I'm betting you'll do as I did and add it to your collection. I know when I'm down it will be one to pull off the shelf and watch again.

Click here to order.

CINDERELLA 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION: MUSIC FROM THE PAST


The most difficult thing to do when writing this column is to choose a single title to write about when so many good ones are being released that week. For instance this week. Do I write about season 4 of THE WALKING DEAD? Or what about the blu-ray release of the classic THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE? Then again season 2 or ELEMENTARY is just out as well. Fortunately you can read reviews of those releases online at the Digital Views blog. That's because I've chosen something nostalgic being released to write about this week.

RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN'S CINDERELLA first aired on CBS over 50 years ago. That's hard to believe. But a new DVD 50th anniversary edition has comes out this week and will bring back many fond memories for those who remember it. I remember it because in all honesty it was the first glimpse I had of Lesley Anne Warren who became my 6 year old crush. But that's not the reason this new DVD is worth picking up.

Certainly you all know the story of Cinderella already. The young girl who was treated poorly by her step-mother and step-sisters, forced to do the cleaning and cooking while they thought only of themselves. Who was given the chance by her fairy godmother to go to the ball, dance and romance the prince and later found to be the woman he was looking for when only her foot would fit the glass slipper he took across the country to find his one true love. Okay maybe I should have said spoiler alert but honestly if you don't know this story already something is wrong.

There had been various versions of the story produced, most famously the animated version done by the Disney Studios. In looking into this version I found that it had been done already for television back in 1957 with Julie Andrews starring. At the time shows were broadcast live so there is no copy of that version. That prompted CBS to remake the program in 1964, starring the then unknown Lesley Ann Warren in the lead role. This is the version just released on DVD.

Looking back it's amazing when you realize that at the time Broadway musicals were fairly common to be seen in television versions. While this was written specifically for television and not taken from Broadway, it still has that live performance feel to it as well as the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein music and lyrics. Today most kids have no idea who these two were but at the time they had the biggest set of Broadway hits ever found. For those of us who grew up with them we still remember their music and my guess would be you've hummed one tune or another by them in the past year if you're over 40.

The fantastic combination of what these two gentlemen brought together and were able to convey to videotape here is what makes this musical special. There is no overabundant amount of detail in everything from scenery to props to costumes. Everything seems so simple. There is no major league dramatic or political statement being made here. It's just a plain old love story with music to match. And yet it works on every level. It features fantastic music that you'll find yourself singing long after the DVD stops playing. While watching it I was amazed that after all these years I still remembered some of the lyrics to these songs, songs I hadn't heard in decades.

Today's kids face a jaded life filled with instant gratification in the forms of movies and music via things like downloads and Netflix. They have no concept of waiting to see a special or movie that only showed once a year or maybe one time only on TV. This show played yearly up until 1974. Now that it's on DVD it means those of us who enjoyed it can watch it every year we want if not more often. I know my plans are to have my great niece and nephew sit and watch it with me. That's the beauty of these classics being made available this way. It also gives me the chance to let them know about how we used to wait.

Major kudos goes to Shout Factory for releasing this version complete with a short retrospective from the past remaining casts filmed several years back. The quality of the DVD is fantastic and is sure to provide countless hours of entertainment for all who buy a copy. Once again they've outdone themselves with a release that might have been forgotten otherwise. Instead we now have the chance to enjoy it once more. With any luck a new generation will be exposed to it's beauty and consider looking into the other classics from Rodgers and Hammerstein. One can only hope.

Click here to order.

THINK LIKE A MAN TOO: WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS...

There are good and bad sequels being made all the time. It seems that Hollywood is unwilling to bank on something new and more prone to take on remakes and sequels more and more. So if you choose to go see a sequel my guess is your hoping that it's good. I can say now that THINK LIKE A MAN TOO is indeed a good sequel.

The men and women from the first film are brought back again, this time to celebrate the wedding of two of their own. Michael (Terrence Jenkins) and Candace (Regina Hall) are about to tie the knot and with Cedric (Kevin Hart) as his best man you know things won't turn out as planned. The first problem they encounter is Michael's interfering mother Loretta (Jenifer Lewis), a woman who is controlling all aspects of the wedding from start to finish. Vegas may not have been her first choice for location but she's making it this wedding as un-Vegas as she can.

But this group of friends has other plans in mind for the night before. While the tried and true plot device of a bachelor party gone wild has been used over and over again, this movie at least puts a new spin on it that works. Rather than just have the fellas out and about visiting strip club after strip club, we end up with two groups setting out to outdo one another. Narrating it from start to finish is Cedric.

The men start out in the lead doing the things they planned in the hotel at one of the most expensive suites available. Of course when Cedric booked it he thought the cost was only $4,000. What he failed to notice is that the ad he read said it was $4,000 off. With that discount the costs is a mere $40,000 per night. As the night progresses things only continue this way.

The women are having a tough time getting off the ground as well. It seems that Loretta has the entire evening planned on her own, starting with dinner at a fancy restaurant and then on to seeing Dionne Warwick in concert. To the rescue comes the bride's uncle Eddie (Dennis Haysbert), someone that Michael's mom took a liking to once before. With her out of the way the race is on.

A mix up results in the girls getting the bus that Cedric booked for the evening leaving the guys with a limo painted with male strippers on the side. Rather than take that ride, they walk instead. As they walk they talk with one another about the various problems each one is facing. That's one of the things that makes this movie work more than most. It's not just the raunch that this evening is about, it's about friendship and the affection they have for their significant others as well as one another.

One couple is facing possible career changes that may take them to opposite sides of the country. Another is facing the daunting task of trying to get pregnant and worried about what that entails. A third faces the problems of dealing with the guy's party animal past and his girlfriend's confusion as to whether this is a man she wants to spend her life with. All of these difficulties come to a solution before the end of the film, a lot like the old romantic comedies of the 50s and 60s. The thing that makes it stand out is the journey they take along the way there.

At this time Hart is perhaps the biggest name in the cast. So many stand up comedians always start to make movies and take over the whole thing while at the same time just doing the same character they do in their stand up. Hart does the smart thing though and shares the screen with the entire cast here. Not only that while he may portray a character that's a bit shallow and misguided, that may go off on the rest from time to time, he never makes the movie about himself. It's about the entire group. That's a nice change to see.

There are plenty of laughs as the movie progresses from start to finish with the best held in check till the final third of the film. But that works here. Prior to that we have to set up exactly what is going on with these people. It makes the rest of the film that much more special by the end. While they might end up in some crazy situations, it makes you wish that you had a group of friends around you as close as this group is. Now to wait and see if a third film in the series comes along. With babies being discussed it would be the next step and could make it a wonderful trilogy to watch.

Click here to order.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

PUMPKINHEAD: NEW MONSTER DELIVERED CORRECTLY

I've always been a horror film fan from early on. I grew up on the classics, staying up late at night and watching monster movies on the Cleveland stations all in glorious black and white. While most kids have no idea who Karloff, Lugosi or Chaney Jr. are, for me they were the monsters of my childhood. Knowing that and remembering what a great time I had with them, I'm always excited to hear that a new monster is on the horizon. Unfortunately of late that has meant slashers and stalkers rather than monsters. Wouldn't you know one of the last great monster to come along happened in 1988. The good news is that the movie that introduced this new monster is now available on blu-ray from Shout Factory.

PUMPKINHEAD offers a new creation rather than relying on something old. If you've never seen the movie then this blu-ray edition is by far the best way to introduce yourself. Not only will you get a beautiful copy of the movie itself but it offers some killer extras that fans and non-fans alike will love and appreciate. These include a new tribute to monster creator and the director of this movie, Stan Winston; interviews with the producer and several actors; PUMPKINHEAD-UNEARTHED, a documentary on the making of the movie; a featurette about the toyline that featured the creature and more.

The story itself begins in 1957 in a backwoods area where a young Ed Harley witnesses the wrath of the legend known as Pumpkinhead, a creature called forth to exact revenge on an individual or group at the bequest of someone wronged. Years later Ed (Lance Henriksen) is grown up and living with his young son, running the local general store. An accident involving a group of young people and their motocross bikes leaves Ed's son dead and Ed determined to have his revenge.

Ed finds his way to the creepy old lady of the hills and pays what she asks to help him fulfill this wish. She warns him that the cost is deep but blinded by grief he agrees. It isn't long before the creature of vengeance is unleashed upon the earth and the group of youngsters hiding in their cabin is not safe behind closed doors. Before the end of the night Ed will have to decide if the price for his revenge is worth it. Can he decide before each of the victims is claimed by Pumpkinhead?

That might not sound terrifying but in reality this creature is fantastic. Director and special effects genius Stan Winston used practical effects to create this creature and the effort pays off hugely. It appears to be a real live creature. Keep in mind in 1988 the age of CGI monsters was not around yet. When you look at this monster it is indeed scary to look at and one that you hope never comes knocking.

The whole movie has an eerie vibe to it that seeps through each and every frame. It's not just the monster that is scary but the havoc that it unleashes as well. Not only that but the effect it all has on Ed as it begins to fulfill his wishes makes for some creepy moments as well. Rarely has a new monster been created that could cause nightmares but this time they've done it and done it well.

To say that Shout/Scream Factory has outdone themselves again is beginning to become redundant in my reviews of the product they've released. They truly get that fans want to see these great horror films in blu-ray format but not cleansed so much they don't remain faithful to the original print. Not only that, they take these movies and add to them extras that show they truly appreciate these movies rather than just toss them out there with nothing special. They've done an amazing job on this release and it only makes us, the fans, look forward to what comes next. If you love this movie buy it immediately. If you like it, buy it and learn to love it. This is a great new release and one that deserves space on your shelf.

Click here to order.

MOM'S NIGHT OUT: MOM'S DESERVE THE BEST

It is rare to find a movie that will make you laugh so hard that you find yourself scrambling for the remote. Not so that you can fast forward to get away from the movie but because you were laughing so hard that you missed something else and now have to rewind to catch that joke as well. It's a good thing and so is the movie MOM'S NIGHT OUT.

Allyson (Sarah Drew) is a part time blogger/full time mother trying to wrangle three pre-school children at home. Her husband Sean (Sean Astin) is an architect who tries to help when he is home but more often than not is out and about working or taking guy time out with his friend Kevin. Needless to say Sarah's stress level is about to explode.

Allyson's best friends are Izzy (Andrea Logan White) and Sondra (Patricia Heaton). Izzy is Sarah's age with two kids of her own and a husband with a fear of children. Sondra is the oldest of the three, the wife of the pastor of their church and dealing with her own child, not pre-school mind you but the next step of aggravation, a teenager. When Allyson has had enough she suggests they have a night out, just the three of them. With a coupon at the local high class restaurant plans are made.

Things start to go wrong when Sean's half sister Bridget (Abbie Cobb) comes to dinner and asks Allyson to watch her baby while she starts a new job that same night. Allyson turns her down but Sean steps in, learning for the first time about the girl's night out, and says he'll baby sit. He wants Allyson to go out, to unwind and to have a good time. He appreciates her and all she does believing more in her success than she does.

All seems fine right? That is until it all starts to unravel beginning with their reservation messed up. Mix that with ever ringing cell phones from husbands who can't seem to deal with the same things these women do every day and it gets worse. I'm not talking about worse because of the cell phones either. By the end we have babies in tattoo parlors, stolen vehicles, bikers, cops, waste heads and children with the uncanny ability to find a way to get into trouble at the local pizza and gaming establishment. And that's just a few things that happen.

The energy if frenetic in this film and never seems to let up. Something seems to constantly be happening here. Each opportunity to turn one of these negative things into something funny is taken and it works each and every time. But more than that the movie also provides an opportunity to bring about a message about faith, about God and about mother's deserving praise non-stop. It becomes something that offers a positive message among the chaos that begins in the first moments and runs through till almost the last image.

If you have children, or if you have relatives with children, you'll certainly relate to so much that happens in this movie. Perhaps not the same circumstances but at least the same sort of minor life explosions that come with having children. At the same time you'll be reminded that children are a blessing and that even some of the worst things they seem to do can turn around to be amazing displays of creativity and affection.

As I said when beginning this review to find a movie that is laugh out loud funny from start to finish these days is rare indeed. When you can find one that is inspiring as well it makes it even more special. I know that MOM'S NIGHT OUT will find a comfortable space in my collection to be watched every now and then when I need to do two things: to have a laugh and to be reminded how great mothers are. My guess is you'll want to do the same after watching it the first time.

Click here to order.

DUCK DYNASTY-QUACK OR TREAT: HALLOWEEN FUN

Let's just say this up front: if you don't like the show DUCK DYNASTY or can't stand the Robertson family, then don't bother reading any further. On the other hand, if you're like me and enjoy both, then by all means read on.

Fans of the show will know this episode by heart having aired this past season. I should say the main show on this disc as it offers a trio of episodes here. The main episode deals with the Duck Dynasty warehouse being turned into a haunted house for the local kids to go through. CEO Willie Robertson loves the Halloween holiday and goes all out for this event. Unfortunately no one seems to think Willie is scary no matter what he tries. It doesn't matter because the rest of the group pulls together to make a scary night for the kids that they'll enjoy and talk about the rest of their lives.

If that episode doesn't strike your fancy then another deals with Uncle Si as he looks for the infamous black panther that he swears he's seen for years in the area. Needless to say no one else is convinced. If that isn't enough there's another episode where Willie approaches his mid-life crisis by dying his beard and buying a motorcycle he has no idea how to ride. This leads to a battle of the brothers between Willie, Jase and Jep to determine just who the best of the three is.

One of the beautiful things about the DUCK DYNASTY series is the simplicity of it. As you can see you can sum up what an episode is about in just a few sentences. Like the ducks they hunt, each story is like the animal they hunt at the center but it's covered with feathers all over to make it better to look at. I know, a weird analogy, but it works.

I may have oversimplified the biggest reason the show has done so well. It's not just the simplicity of the stories. The biggest reason is the family and the love shared between them. Sure they may tease or make fun of one another or they may prank one another, but the genuine affection they feel and express here shines through each and every episode. When you add to that the religious convictions that they stay true to but don't overkill on you have something special. If that weren't enough already, each episode ends with a family prayer almost always said at the dinner table where they gather together.

It's funny how none of the networks seems to understand the reason for the success of the show. Perhaps the two closest programs they have along this line are WHALBURGERS where we have the Wahlberg family and BLUE BLOODS where we have a devout Catholic family of cops that share a bond as well. Both shows play to an audience tiring of the usual garbage tossed on the air. While they claim that sex sells it's amazing to consider the amount of viewers and sales of DUCK DYNASTY products on the market that are doing amazing numbers. It's been this way as far back as LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE which had great ratings yet wasn't copied either.

So if you're looking for a fun time with the Robertson boys for Halloween then by all means pick up this disc and enjoy. I know it's on my keep shelf here right next to the copies of each season. I know I'll enjoy them again and again.  

Click here to order.

HEAVENLY SWORD: BIG GAME TO BIG SCREEN

I'm not an avid gamer so when I read that the movie HEAVENLY SWORD was based on a tremendously successful video game I had to take the producer's word on that. From the look and feel of the movie I can believe that every word of that is true.

The story takes place in the orient where a weapon known as the heavenly sword was used in the far past to bring peace and tranquility to the world. Used to defeat a madman intent on ruling the world, it has been placed in the care of a clan whose sole responsibility is to protect it from the world. Only the chosen one can wield the sword as it drains the life force from anyone who would take possession of if be it for good or for bad.

As time passes the sword is protected by the clan until word reaches them that King Bohan has set his sights on taking the sword so that he can rule the world. Born a prince and treated unmercifully as a child, Bohan killed his father to take the crown and now uses evil magic to work his way across the land, taking it all for himself.

A problem rises in the clan when they can find no chosen one to wield the sword. The ruler of the clan is ashamed because he had a daughter, Nariko, as his first born child rather than a boy. Trained in secret by her mentor and her father's best friend, as Bohan attacks their stronghold Nariko and her best friend Kai must find the chosen one and stop Bohan at all costs.

The duo set out to find this chosen one using what little clues they have. Along their journey they discover so much that they never knew, starting with the fact that they are sisters of the same father. Clues later lead them to find that the king did indeed give birth to a son but he and the child had no idea. This is where they head with the sword, Bohan on their heels trying to put an end to the last remnants of the clan.

This sword and sorcery epic does a good job of telling its tale using computer animated graphics to bring the game to life. The animation here falls in line with what you find these days in games found on Play station 3 or X-Box which can be quite good. But if you enjoy these sorts of stories then you're not overly concerned with that. Instead you're more concerned with the story and here there is plenty of that.

While HEAVENLY SWORD might not be for everyone I have little doubt that gamers will love this movie. Fans of the classic swashbuckling films will find something in it for them as well. As for myself I enjoyed it from start to finish and have found a place for it on the collector's shelf here at home. I have no doubt that from time to time, when the mood strikes me, I'll pull it down from the shelf and enjoy it all over again.

Click here to order.