'Dog's Purpose' is heartwarming, emotional

By Tom Von Malder | May 03, 2017
Photo by: Amblin Partners Britt Robertson and KJ Apa star in "A Dog's Purpose."

Owls Head — A Dog's Purpose (Amblin/Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 100 min.). Everyone knows the expression that a cat has nine lives. Well, this heartwarming film, based on the novel of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron, puts forth the idea that dogs too have multiple lives, albeit through reincarnation. The important difference of this reincarnation is the dog retains its memories of its past lives, including special smells. In the film, which often is shot through the dog's point of view, we experience four of the lives on one such dog "soul," spanning four decades or so in the process. The director is Lasse Hallstrom ("The Cider House Rules," "Hachi: A Dog's Tale," "My Life as a Dog").

Get ready those handkerchiefs, because this film had me crying at least three times. As good as the film is, if you have ever loved and lost a pet, you will be deeply affected. Throughout the reincarnations, Josh Gad voices the dog narration that links the screen action. The bulk of the first half of the film is given to the story of Bailey, a Red Retriever, whom 8-year-old Ethan (Bryce Gheisar) and his mother (Juliet Rylance) rescue from near death, when they find the dog locked in an over-heated truck. One of the highlights of this half of the film is when Bailey visits Ethan's grandparents' farm for the first time and joyously races around, upsetting chickens and so on. The film follows the solid bond that grows between Bailey and Ethan through to Ethan's teenage years, when Ethan is played by KJ Apa of TV's "Riverdale." Ethan does well enough in football to earn a college scholarship and begins dating Hannah (Britt Robertson of "Tomorrowland: A World Beyond," "The Space Between Us"). One can sense a life-altering event is about to happen. Still, there are moments of incredible joy, such as when Bailey runs through the fields after Ethan's car as he heads off to college.

As time passes, we see other reincarnations of Bailey: as a female German Shepherd that becomes a police dog, working with Officer Carlos (John Ortiz); as a Welsh Corgi, who helps Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) end her isolation; and finally as a St. Bernard-Australian Shepherd mutt that brings the story to a lovable close. These bridging segments are more compact. The film also stars Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton, Luke Kirby and Pooch Hall.

Extras include 15 brief deleted scenes (9:24), including two about how the dogs like to mouth their tails; three with Apa; two with Ortiz; and three involving the barber shop. There also are outtakes (2:11); an interview with author Cameron and his wife (4:44); and a behind-the-scenes look at the film that covers the dog trick training and shooting in Winnipeg. Not touched on is the controversial leaked video that purportedly showed an animal in distress during a water scene; however, that video has been fully discredited elsewhere. No animals were harmed in the making of the film. Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 2 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Underworld: Blood Wars (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 91 Min.). The fifth film in the Lycan-Vampire struggle series, and the fourth to star Kate Beckinsale, is totally underwhelming, a real disappointment. For the most part, the film continues the limited palette of black and steely blue, which, since it almost all occurs during nighttime, makes the action sometimes difficult to see. The exception is the white robes worn by the newly-introduced Nordic Coven. This is a generic action picture that barely moves the series forward ... and yes, a sixth film already has been promised.

Thankfully, "Blood Wars" starts with a recap of the previous films. It then launches into a bloody battle as the werewolves attempt to capture Selene (Beckinsale). The werewolves, or Lycans, led by Marius (Tobias Menzies), seek the whereabouts of Selene's daughter, Eve, a pure hybrid whose blood is valued. In fact, the vampire Semira (lara Pulver), a member of the Elder Council, seeks that same blood for herself and she is willing to kill anyone, including members of her coven to get it. Semira's boy toy is Varga (Bradley James of TV's "Merlin," "Damien"). After Semira's betrayal, literally executed by Varga, Selene and David (a returning Theo James, who reportedly has said he is done with the series) flee to the Nordic Coven. The Nordic Coven women have a ritual in which they take poison, are submerged in water and make contact with the Sacred World, before returning to life. Selene undergoes the ritual, but this whole concept is a rip-off of how one turns a Bene Gesserit into a Reverend Mother in Frank Herbert's "Dune" novels.

Extras include a graphic novel of the film that shows two pages a time, but the print is too small to read even on a 50-inch screen. The illustrations are good, however. There also are features on the characters: one on Selene's evolution (8:09); a look at Thomas, David, Vidar and Lena (6:15); and a look at evil characters Cassius, Semira, Varga, Alexia and Marius (6:07). Finally, there is a general-making of feature (12:03) that has some behind-the-scenes footage. The production used a castle near Prague as the main set and the film has some 650 visual effects. Grade: film 2 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Gold (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 120 min.). This film features a lived-in performance by Matthew McConaughey -- the only reason to see the film -- as he gained more than 40 pounds (and that new paunch gets shown off a lot) and became semi-bald,  but its narrative disappoints. The film is inspired by the true story of Calgary’s Bre-X Minerals, which became the Cinderella stock darling of the world before suffering a dramatic collapse. Bre-X ventured into the Indonesian jungle in 1993.

Directed by Stephen Gaghan ("Syriana") and written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman, "Gold" follows the story of Kenny Wells (McConaughey), a gold prospector who is desperate for success. His father's company, Washoe Mining, is almost bankrupt. Wells now runs the business out of a bar. One night, Wells literally has a dream about finding gold in Indonesia and he tracks down geologist Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez of "The Girl on the Train," next year's "American Crime Story" as Gianni Versace) there. Acosta has a theory that the Pacific Rim of Fire contains many undiscovered mineral deposits, including gold. The two agree to work together and go into the uncharted jungle, with permits from the Suharto government. After their native workers have all run off for lack of pay and while Wells is stricken with malaria, Acosta manages to get some workers back and discover gold in their core sample drillings. That takes about 40 minutes, with the rest of the film devoted to what happens afterwards.

One guesses the story does not turn out too well, as most of the rest is told by Wells as he is being interviewed by Paul K. Jennings (Tony Kebbell), who turns out to be an AFI agent. Washoe does go public and is traded on Wall Street, and Wells turns down a $300 million offer from Newport Holdings over naming rights (Washoe and Wells would have been removed from the ownership). The latter gives a little spark to the second half of the film, as Wells and Acosta try to woo Suharto's son, Danny (Jirayu Tantrakul), into a deal to regain a stake in the mining operation, after the Indonesian government withdrew the permits and nationalized the find. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Wells' love interest, Kay, and Craig T. Nelson plays Wells' father. The film also stars Corey Stoll and Stacy Keach. The film's title song, sung and co-written by Iggy Pop, was nominated for a Golden Globe.

Extras include audio commentary by director Gaghan; a deleted sequence (5:18) in which Wells and Kay friendly bicker over the watch he pawned, and then Wells blows up during a luncheon meeting over the mining permits (he gets a bit racist, so I see why it was cut); a look at the film's origins (4:37); a look at the locations, which include Reno, New York and Thailand (4:20); and a look at McConaughey as Wells (3:45) who says the film is about what a man will do to keep his dream alive. Grade: film and extras 2.5 stars

Tunnel (Korea, Well Go USA DVD, NR, 126 min.). In this unusual disaster film, a tunnel that has been open less than a month collapses, trapping one man in his car beneath massive debris. The car salesman, who only has two bottles of water and his daughter's cream birthday cake for provisions, does have a working cell phone that connects him with the outside world. The rescue effort goes on for weeks, until it is threatened by bureaucrats who want to continue construction, including dynamiting, of a second nearby tunnel that also leads to Hado New Town.

Jung-woo Ha ("The Handmaiden") stars as Jung-soo Lee of Kia Motors. The first collapse happens six minutes into the movie, followed a minute later by a second that takes down much of the mountain. Task Force Chief Kim Dae-kyung (Dal-su Oh of "Oldboy") leads the rescue effort, which is more reliant on drilling a shaft from 138 meters above, than removing all the debris from the tunnel entrance. Doona Bae plays Se-hyun, the trapped man's wife. The best sequence is when Chief Kim is driven into the tunnel to explore and the rest of the tunnel collapses, forcing them to drive backwards as the collapse occurs around the car. Seong-hun Kim ("A Hard Day") directed this competent, entertaining film. There are no extras. Grade: film 3.25 stars

MindGamers (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 98 min.). We first meet Sam Neill as Gabriel, a priest who, in 2027, says the Church is dead and the faithful have fled. However, Gabriel, now going under his last name of Kruetz, has a plan to link all the faithful together mentally and brings them back to the fold, plus to heal his stroke-stricken body along the way. The script could use some healing too, as the movie is overly obtuse and gets even more incomprehensible towards the end. In addition to the mind games, the film makers introduce parkour moves and a mass theatrical-style dance sequence, with the latter just coming off as laughable.

The students who create the wireless neural network are played by  Tom Payne ("The Walking Dead"), Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Dominique Tipper (TV's "The Expanse"), Oliver Stark and Turlough Convery. Ryan Doyle ("Freerunner") plays a parkour expert who has been paralyzed and is the subject of the students' experiments, while Melia Kreiling ("Guardians of the Galaxy") plays a mysterious redhead who may be controlling everything. The students are given access to a quantum computer, called En.O.Ch. This failure comes with a lengthy making-of feature (44:41). Grade: film dog; extra 2 stars

The Vampire Bat (1933, Film Detective Blu-ray, NR, 63 min.). Ah, the good old days when villagers would raise up their torches and go after the bad guy. Only in this case, the bad guy (Dwight Frye as man-child Herman Gleib) isn't really a bad guy, and the villagers are driven by speculation and rumor after a series of deaths in the small village result in corpses drained of blood and with two neck puncture wounds.

Melvyn Douglas ("Ninotchka," future Oscar winner for "Hud" and "Being There") plays investigator Karl Brettschneider, who cannot figure out what is going on, but who is not buying the vampire theory. His girlfriend, Ruth Bertin (Fay Wray of "King Kong"), works for Dr. Otto von Niemann (Lionel Atwell of "Doctor X"), who appears to know a lot about vampirism. Comic relief is provided by hypochondriac Aunt Gussie (Maude Eburne), while Robert Frazer plays von Niemann's assistant, Emil. While the mystery is eventually solved, the how it was done is not fully explained. Director Frank R. Strayer used a Gustav Brock color sequence in the otherwise black-and-white film. When the villagers chase Herman into the caves, their torches have orange-and-red flames. This hand-painted color sequence has been unacknowledged and unseen since the film's initial run.

Frye appeared in both "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." The script is by Hugo-nominated Edward T. Lowe ("House of Frankenstein," "House of Dracula"). This release has been restored from a 35mm composite acetate fine grain master and a 35mm nitrate print by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. A bonus feature is an interview with Douglas' son, Gregory Hesselberg, about his father (7:03), with many vintage photos. There also is audio commentary by film historian Sam Sherman. This is a superior B picture, but not up to the standards of the Universal horror classics of the day. Grade: film 2 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Mars (National Geographic, 3 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, TV-PG, 150 min.). This miniseries about the first colonization of Mars has its moments, but ultimately is an unsuccessful melding of fact and fiction. The segments about current efforts that will lead to exploration of Mars interrupts the fictional narrative too often. Perhaps it would have been best to separate the two. The talking heads bits and what is being done to prepare for Mars exploration now would make a solid documentary, while the fictional aspects could have been its own extra.

The fictional storyline takes the pilot's seat initially, despite brief intrusions of actual history. Ben Sawyer (Ben Cotton) does early narration, setting the stage that NASA has joined with a number of other national space agencies to create an international space effort, backed by private enterprise. There are narrative bits early on that give personal stories and character beats. (In fact, the "Before Mars" prequel in the extras tells the growing-up story of two sisters, one of whom travels to Mars and the other stays behind in the mission's command center. It is 33 minutes long.) Sticking to the fictional elements, there comes a series of disasters that have less of an impact than one would expect.

The factual side of the miniseries includes private spacing pioneer Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson, who provide background about what it will take to get mankind to Mars. Overall, the miniseries offers impressive physical and computer-generated production. Other bonus features including a solid look at the making of the miniseries (47:17) and the prequel (2:28), as well as looks at getting to Mars (13:51), living on Mars (10:26), several short featurettes (10:29) that cover how Mars was formed and other facts; cast and crew interviews (25:06; interviewee is executive producer Ron Howard); and candid behind-the-scenes footage and more Howard interviews (14:38). Grade: miniseries and extras 3 stars

Planet Earth 2 (BBC earth, 2 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, NR, 300 min.). It has been 10 years since the first "Planet Earth" miniseries, also narrated by David Attenborough, has been released. Again, the results are superb, and it is interesting to note that many of the cameras used were customized for the production's special needs.

There are six episodes, each about 52 minutes long. They cover, in order: Islands (the tiny pygmy three-toed sloth in its Caribbean island home, while the barren, volcanic islands of Galapagos force marine iguanas to find food in the ocean); Mountains (four snow leopards are filmed together for the first time as a mother and cub become trapped in a desperate fight between two rival males, while Grizzly bears scratch their backs on trees); Jungles (Brazil has caiman-hunting jaguars and strange jungle dolphins that swim in the tree tops, while in Costa Rica, ninja frogs fight huge wasps); Deserts (a pride of desert lions are so hungry they risk hunting a giraffe, while male sand grouse fly nearly 200 kilometers each day from their nests to the nearest waterhole, simply to collect water for their chicks); Grasslands (bizarre looking Saiga antelope in Asia and the giant ant-eaters of Brazil); and Cities (leopards prowl the streets of Mumbai, while peregrine falcons hunt among New York's skyscrapers).

Each episode is followed by a making-of featurette, about 10 minutes in length, showing the hardships, weather and hazards experienced by the photographers and crew . Grade: miniseries 4 stars; extras 2.5 stars

The Good Wife: The Complete Series (2009-2016, CBS/Paramount, 42 DVDs, 112 hours 43 min.). This set collects all seven seasons of the show that won the Television Critics Award for Outstanding Achievement in Drama. The show stars Juliana Margulies in her Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning role as Alicia Florrick, a disgraced wife who returns to work as a lawyer after her husband, Peter (Chris Noth), is imprisoned after a scandal. She reinvents herself and creates a new life practicing law and investigating the treacherous world of politics. The cast includes Matt Czuchry, Josh Charles, Christine Baranski, Alan Cumming and Archie Panjabi, with appearances by guest stars Carrie Preston, Martha Plimpton and Michael J. Fox.

Extras include deleted scenes for each scene, plus gag reels for seasons five and seven. There is a making-of featurette for season one as well as real-life events, while season two comes with Cummings' videos, a look inside an episode and three campaign music videos. Season three discusses a new beginning and Alicia at the crossroads among its featurettes. Season four has a featurette on directing, as well as sex as viewed by Standards and Practices and the show's fashion. Season five looks inside the "Requiem for a Friend" episode and has a music video, while season six investigates the season finale and the women of the show. Season seven comes with a farewell, a look at the music and a visit to the wrap party.

Vega$: The Complete Series (1978-81, CBS/Paramount, 18 DVDs, NR, 57 hours). In this Aaron Spelling created drama, Robert Urich ("Spenser: For Hire") stars as private investigator Dan Tanna, an ultra-smooth operator who always foils the criminals and charms the ladies in Las Vegas. Tanna often works for hotel mogul Philip Roth (Tony Curtis). His cases involve both Vegas residents and tourists, call girl murders, land disputes, business fallouts and celebrity protection. His allies include Beatrice (Phyllis Davis), Angie (Judy Landers), "Binzer" (Bart Braverman) and Lt. David Nelson (Greg Morris of "Mission Impossible"). Notable guest stars included Maureen McCormick ("The Brady Bunch") as a female tennis player with her "Brady Bunch" father, Robert Reed, again playing her father; and Terri Nunn as a runaway teen. Nunn later became the lead singer for the group Berlin. The audio is mono and subtitles are only available for the second and third seasons. There are no bonus features.

Medium: The Complete Series (2005-11, CBS/Paramount, NR, 35 DVDs, 93 hours 42 min.). Patricia Arquette won one of her two  Emmy nominations, and had three Golden Globe nominations for playing real-life research medium Allison Dubois in the drama that lasted seven seasons. In the show, Dubois is a young wife and mother of three children who is trying to understand her natural intuition about people and her ability to communicate with the dead. Her husband (Jake Weber as Joe) is supportive, but the couple struggles to find a balance between her family life and her calling. Dubois helps District Attorney Manual Devalos (Miguel Sandoval) and Detective Lee Scanlon (David Cubitt) solve the toughest cases. Sofia Vassilieva rounds out the regular cast, while guest stars include Anjelica Huston, Jennifer Lawrence and Kelsey Grammer.

There are deleted scenes for seasons one, three and four and gag reels for the first four seasons and season seven. Other bonuses include an extended version of the pilot, a look at the real Dubois, making-of featurettes for each season, a cast and creative team Q&A for season two, a look at David Arquette directing his sister in a season three episode, an audio commentary on a season four episode, a Q&A with Weber and Arquette for season five, a script-to-screen look at "Apocalypse Now," a celebration of the 100th episode, a making-of episode "Bite Me," and looks at Cynthia Keener and Det. Scanlon. There  is Spanish audio for all seven seasons.

The 4400: The Complete Series (2004-07, CBS/Paramount, 15 DVDs, NR, 32 hours 18 min.). Newly packaged, in part to call attention to the presence of actor Mahershala Ali (recent Best Actor Academy Award winner for "Moonlight"), this collects all four seasons of the likable science fiction series. When a comet hurtles toward Earth, instead of striking the planet, it leaves 4,400 missing people from many eras in a flash of light. Now the question is whether the returnees are part of a plot. The National Threat Assessment Command assigns Dennis Ryland (Peter Coyote) to direct an investigative task force that includes agents Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch) and Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie).

Shawn Farrell (Patrick Flueger) is Baldwin's son Kyle's (Chad Faust) best friend and cousin. He was abducted from a beach in 2001 and Kyle was found in a coma. Now Shawn is one of the returnees and has the power to heal, and he brings Kyle out of his coma. During the course of the show, it is revealed that Kyle is possessed by a person from the future and he was the one who was supposed to have been abducted, not Shawn. Meanwhile, Shawn becomes a key player in Jordan Collier's (Billy Campbell) 4400 Center, a refuge for the returnees. Shawn is not the only returnee to exhibit supernatural powers.

Bonus features include a season three look at how a series with intricate mythology is crafted and restructured as it evolves; a look at how real-world events and writer experiences influenced the creation of the enhanced abilities; an interactive character tree that accesses video pods with information on connections from the first three seasons; behind-the-scenes footage and cast and crew interviews about season four, when factions were at war; the first draft of the Tom Baldwin character; gag reels, deleted scenes; a profile of Collier; a director's cut of "The Great Leap Forward"; and the creation of the ball of light.

Hawaii Five-0: The Complete Series (1968-80, CBS/Paramount, 72 DVDs, NR, 235 hours 56 min.). This hefty package contains all 12 seasons of the original series, which starred Jack Lord as former U.S. Naval Officer Steve McGarrett, now acting head of an elite state police unit. Filmed entirely on location in Hawaii, the show became one of the longest-running crime shows in television history. The Five-0 squad was based on an actual unit that existed under martial law in the 1940s. It also is noted for its theme music by Morton Stevens (still used on the remake series that started in 2010 and continues) and the line, "Book 'em, Danno."

In the show, McGarrett oversees state police officers -- the young Danny Williams, veteran Chin Ho Kelly and streetwise Kono Kalakaua -- for seasons one through four. Honolulu Police Officer Duke Lukela joined the team as a regular, as did Ben Kokua, who replaced Kono beginning with season five. The medical examiner was Doc Bergman and the forensic specialist, Che Fong. Criminals and crime bosses on the islands were played by guest stars Ricardo Montalban, Gavin MacLeod and Ross Martin. Special features include Emme's Island Moments (memories of the show), a music video tribute, episodic promos and a series promo. Languages available include Spanish, Latin America Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.

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