‘Epic’ in miniature; laughs more than ‘Pain & Gain’
Owls Head — Epic (Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 102 min.). “Epic” is a grand tale, told in miniature; and while it is very derivative at times, it tells a satisfying animated adventure. The film is narrated by Mary Katharine, aka MK (voiced by Amanda Seyfried), who arrives to spend time with her eccentric father, Prof. Bomba (voiced by Jason Sudeikas), for the first time since her mother’s death. Bomba is convinced the forest is full of little people and he is determined to capture them on film or video.
It is not long before MK discovers her father was right, as she is shrunk to 2-inch size by dying nature spirit, Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles), and given the charge to protect the pod (“the life of the forest”) selected to become the next queen. Tara would have died anyway -- it is the nature of the succession -- but the putrefying Boggans, led by Mandrake (Christoph Waltz, in yet another leading bad guy role) have attacked. Their aim is to have the selected pod open in darkness instead of moonlight, ruining the once-in-a-lifetime ceremony and therefore, allowing rot to take over the forest. Cast into a world she did not know existed, MK is aided by Ronin (Colin Farrell), one of the Leafmen (think Jedi warrior, if you will) and reluctant-Leafman-in-training Nod (Josh Hutcherson). Also joining the small band are two goofy mollusks -- Aziz Ansari as Mub and Chris O’Dowd as Grub -- whose job is to keep the pod moist.
The film really is gorgeous to look at, with lots of detail to the animation. However, the script goes for more cliché than characterization and resorts to “epic” battle sequences when it wants to pick up the pace (one interior battle is eerily reminiscent of the recent “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”). And Beyonce is not the only musician cast: Pitbull plays frog Bufo, who runs bird races; and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith is cast as Nim Galuu, keeper of the scrolls, who gets to do a song that halts the film’s momentum. The director is Chris Wedge of the “Ice Age” franchise.
The extras are aimed at children and tend to be instructional, such as a look at real insects (5:21), the benefits of rot and decay (3:18), how bugs blend into nature (3:44) and the physics of being tiny (3:42). There also is a making-of feature (24:39). Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.25 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
Pain & Gain (Paramount, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 129 min.). Director Michael Bay brings his frenetic, blockbuster style to this amazingly-true tale of three Florida personal trainers who decided to kidnap a client and hold him until he signs over all his possessions. It is the classic case of how, when something starts to go wrong, it snowballs. The film also is wickedly funny, often in inappropriate places.
Mark Wahlberg plays the “brains” of the operation, Daniel Lugo, a fast-talking con man with dreams of having what he has not. He aspires to the American dream of becoming rich from nothing. He charmed his way into employment at Sun Gym in Miami, turning the place from a gym filled with old people into a hot spot for body builders and beautiful women (one of his ideas to triple memberships within three weeks is to give strippers free memberships). Tony Shalhoub plays his new customer, Victor Kershaw, a successful fast food king who never tires of bragging about his wealth and possessions. The second member of the crooked trio is personal trainer Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), who Lugo has personally gotten into tip top shape (except for his one little problem that leads him to a specialist and the love of his life). The third member is new hire, ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), who has dropped drugs and alcohol and found god, except that Pastor Randy (Larry Hankin) hits on him, so he returns the favor with his fist. And when the plan works, drugs quickly become a problem for Doyle and his high-flying lifestyle.
The laughs come often, like when their first kidnap try almost interrupts a dinner party at Kershaw’s home. The humor is blackest when they later try to kill Kershaw, and when they get sidetracked returning a defective saw when trying to get rid of a body. Also funny is Doyle’s unsuccessful attempt to rob an armored car. Ed Harris plays retired policeman Ed DuBois, who is hired by Kershaw to bring the trio to justice, after the police disregard his allegations as being too outrageous. There are no DVD extras. Grade: film 3.5 stars
Snitch (Summit, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 112 min.). Dwayne Johnson must be vying for the title of the hardest working man in show business, as he stars in this film as well. Johnson plays John Matthews, owner of a construction business, whose estranged son (Rafi Gavron as Jason Collins), is set up to take the fall in a drug bust. Inspired by a Frontline series on new mandatory drug laws, and the fact that offenders can get reduced sentences if they help the DEA take down another drug dealer, Jason faces 10 years unless he cooperates. However, he refuses to set up anyone to take the fall (and, in fact, his first and only offense was accepting a package of pills sent by a friend).
Matthews, who knows his son will not survive in prison, goes to office-seeking DA Joanne Keeghan and proposes he brings down a drug dealer for her. His offer is refused, but Matthews goes to one of his employees who has a prison record (Jon Bernthal as James Daniel) and tempts him into setting up an introduction to drug dealer Malik (Michael K. Williams). Matthews tapes the meeting, presents the tape to Keeghan and gets the go-ahead on a deal to reduce his son’s sentence to one year. Agent Cooper (Barry Pepper) is assigned to work with Matthews. However, with everything in place for the bust, the DEA does not act, as Cooper feels there is a chance of catching a bigger fry, a member of a Mexican cartel.
Director/co-writer Ric Roman Waugh goes for an old-fashioned character study here, with most of the action coming late in the film, after you have come to care for the main characters -- particularly Daniel, whose whole attempt to go straight has been jeopardized by Matthews’ drive to free his son. The film may disappoint as an action film, but it delivers real emotion. Extras include audio commentary by Waugh and editor Jonathan Chubnall; four deleted scenes (5:35, including Jason with a girlfriend); and a three-part making-of feature (49:37). Grade: film and extras 3 stars
Eve of Destruction (Vivendi, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 173 min.). This is one of five disaster miniseries being presented on Reelz. Steven Weber and Christina Cox are two physicists who work out a means of tapping dark matter in the universe for unlimited energy. They are funded by the Proteus Group, headed by Max Salinger (naturally, he is corrupt and is even sleeping with one of the scientists so he can have a close look at what is going on and an alternate in the two main scientists balk). The other main character is Ruslan (Aleks Paunovic, who does the best acting here), an electric company lineman, who was present when his town in Russia was wiped out by lightning strikes, due to an accelerator experiment. He seems similar lights in the sky when the first Proteus experiment is run.
The miniseries wastes far too much time developing the characters -- including Weber as a single father with a daughter (Jessica McLeod as Ruby) who resents him and falls in with the P53 eco-terrorist group that is trying to bring down Proteus because of its genetically-engineered crops -- yet still making them oh-too-familiar characters. Other than the opening lightning tease, the first part has no action until several fires at its end. It is not until two-thirds of the way through the second part (and for some strange reason, you have to play them separately) that some major destruction happens, and the special effects are not much. To top off all the mistakes in pacing etc., the ending is anti-climatic. Grade: miniseries 2 stars
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Redemption (1991, CBS/Paramount, Blu-ray DVD, NR, 86 min.). This is a seamless compilation of the cliffhanger that ended season four and the resolution that began season five of the series. The plot concerns the breakout of a Klingon Civil War, and what the episodes do is move to the forefront the character of Worf, played by Michael Dorn.
As the U.S.S. Enterprise heads toward the Klingon home world, with Capt. John Luc-Picard (Patrick Stewart) is to take part in the installation of Gowron (Robert O’Reilly) as the new leader of the High Council, Gowron makes an unscheduled visit. The Duras sisters, Lursa (Barbara March) and B'Etor (Gwynyth Walsh), have discovered a male Duras heir to the throne -- an inexperienced young man by the name of Toral (JD Cullum) -- and plan on resisting Gowron's ascension, even if it means civil war. Worf sees this as an opportunity to back Gowron and restore his family's honor, but Gowron says he cannot restore that honor. Worf takes a leave of absence from the Enterprise to meet with his brother Kurn (Tony Todd) and secure the ships under his command so they can approach Gowron again at his weakest. (Kurn resists this plan, but Worf is the elder brother.) Meanwhile, it is revealed that the House of Duras has allied with a dangerous Romulan faction (which brings back fan favorite Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar‘s daughter), an alliance that could ultimately draw the Federation into a wider conflict. Picard assembles a fleet to set up a blockade between the Klingon and Romulan empires. An interesting part of the latter -- but hardly given the time it deserved -- is Data (Brent Spiner) being given his first command and the resentment of a fellow officer who feels an android should not command a ship. Ah, prejudice lives in the future.
The first half is presented as part four of season four and the second half will be part of season five, but by buying it now, you also get audio commentary by Ronald D. Moore and Mike and Denise Okuda, plus a 30-minute behind-the-scenes look at the episode and the history of the Klingons and Worf. This includes an interview with O’Reilly. It is revealed that “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry did not consider Worf a main character and he at-first resisted having him be the lead of an episode. Grade: episodes 3.5 stars; extras 2.5 stars
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season Four (11990-91, CBS/Paramount, 6 Blu-ray DVDs, NR, 19 hours 40 min.). This terrific season starts with the resolution of the cliffhanger that had Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) become part of the Borg Collective, and ends with a cliffhanger, “Redemption” (see above). Early episodes include “Family” and “Brothers,” themes of the bond between the characters as they explore the universe. In “Family,” Worf’s (Michael Dorn) adoptive human parents (Theodore Bikel and Georgia Brown) visit the ship; Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) receives an old keepsake chest that belonged to her late husband, including a recording intended for her son; and Picard visits his family in France, meeting his nephew and his older brother and his wife. “Brothers” has android Data (Brent Spiner) suddenly losing control of his functions and trying to commandeer the Enterprise so he can reunite with an old acquaintance.
The visual upgrade is noticeable and there are some solid extras, including audio commentary by Rob Bowman and Mike and Denise Okuda on “Brothers”; audio commentary by Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga and the Okudas on “Reunion” (the episode introduces Worf’s son and brings hints of the Klingon civil war to come); an overview of the season (16:41); crew analysis (17:04), including Wil Wheaton’s departure as Wesley Crusher and Marina Sirtis’ work; searching for locations and creating matte artwork (13:45), as well as the award-nominated cinematography in "Family," visual effects-heavy episodes versus shipboard episodes, and creating the destroyed starship shots in "Best of Both Worlds"; a look at the writing staff’s role (18:12); the cast’s work as episode directors (16:46); designing the aliens in “Galaxy’s Child” and some of the spaceships (10:25); memories from the episode "First Contact," masking McFadden's pregnancy, and on Emmy Award wins and other matters (11:14); a 67-minute in conversation feature with the art department, including special makeup effects artist Doug Drexler, production designer Herman Zimmerman, scenic art supervisor Mike Okuda, visual effects supervisor Dan Curry, technical consultant Rick Sternbach, and “Deep Space Nine” scenic artist Denise Okuda; the two part “Relativity: The Family Saga of Star Trek (56:50); a gag reel (3:34); and deleted scenes from eight episodes (about 24 min.). Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 3.75 stars
The Captains Close Up with William Shatner (eOne DVD, NR, 150 min.). This collection of five episodes is truly a delight, with Shatner (Capt. James T. Kirk) first being interviewed by Kate Mulgrew (Capt. Kathryn Janeway) and then Shatner interviewing Patrick Stewart (Capt. Jon-Luc Picard), the elusive Avery Brooks (Cmdr. Benjamin Sisko), Mulgrew and Scott Bakula (Capt. Jonathan Archer). The conversations are often intimate and very revealing. Mulgrew gets Shatner to talk about how work equals survival which precedes love. He discusses his failed marriage and we see him working on both a music CD and his one-man Broadway show “Shatner’s World.” They discuss ego a lot.
Stewart recalls his youth, seeing the German V2 rockets in the sky over London and his father’s abuse of Stewart’s mother. Stewart’s actor son joins them. With Brooks, we see the influence Paul Robeson had on him and get to hear Brooks play the piano. Bakula visits one of Shatner’s horse ranches and part of the interview is done on horseback. Bakula’s musical theater background is explored, as well as his belief in reincarnation. There is a real warmth to the proceedings and we learn a lot about the captains of the Star Trek universe (even Chris Pine, the current Kirk in the feature films, is briefly interviewed). Grade: series 3.75 stars