From 'Rio 2' 'Bad Words' to Chinese horror
Owls Head — Rio 2 (Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, G, 101 min.). The Amazon Jungle-based sequel is again filled with the musical beats of Brazil -- thank you Sergio Mendes, who serves as executive music producer and provides several tunes -- and a big homage to Busby Berkeley with the overhead shots and geometric patterns of the bird dances; plus you get an ecological message in save the Amazon rainforest. The film is both tuneful and fun, the latter in large part to the get-revenge antics of the not-so-skillful cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement).
Once again directed by Carlos Saldanha, and with most of the principal cast back, the film's story is a bit by-the-numbers, but serviceable; however, the music and colorful imagery make up for a lot. Blu (again voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) is now the husband of Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and the father of three young blue macaws and happily living a patterned-after-humans life (he wears a fanny pack and uses voice-aided GPS). Their human friends Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), when releasing a bird into the wilds of the Amazon, stumble across a large colony of the previously-thought-to-be-almost-extinct blue macaws. Jewel cajoles Blu into visiting the area, where she is reunited with her father (Andy Garcia as Eduardo) and old-flame Roberto (Bruno Mars). The obvious bits of undeserved jealousy and the too-hard father-in-law follow, although there is humor in the scenes of Eduardo teaching Blu how to survive in the Amazon. Also fun are the auditions for an animal talent show, and a stirring performance of "I Will Survive" by Nigel and his underappreciated, love-struck sidekick Gabi (Kristin Chenowith), a poisonous frog. Nigel and Gabi also perform a fun-filled aria, "Poisonous Love."
Two feuding species of birds settle things via a soccer game that uses Brazil nuts, and there are evil bad guys in the form of an illegal logging crew, led by Big Boss (Miguel Ferrer). There are a lot of extras, but most are pretty light. They include one deleted scene, a refresher on the first film, a 10-munute look at the singing talent, a look at Nigel that includes a tour of the Blue Sky facility, a look at the Brazilian music scenes with Saldanha and Mendes (19:28) and a music, dance and sing-along machine for other, more participatory ways to view the film. The latter two are exclusive to the Blu-ray version. There is a 3D version available as well. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.75 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
Bad Words (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 89 min.). Actor Jason Bateman's directorial debut is a wickedly funny film about a 40-year-old (played by Bateman) who enters the Golden Quill national spelling bee, usually intended for those in the eighth grade and younger. Since Bateman's character, Guy Trilby, never graduated from the eighth grade, he has the technicality that lets him compete, despite the protestations of bee director Dr. Bernice Deagan (Allison Janney) and bee president Dr. Bowman (Philip Baker Hall).
The comedy is definitely salty and goes to some uncomfortable places, but the humor always pays off. Trilby may be very unlikable as a lead character -- certainly in the way he conducts his relationship with Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), his personal reporter throughout his quest, and tricks a couple of the other contestants, but boy is he funny in a dark-viewed way. At the center of the second half of the film is an unlikely friendship between Trilby and a 10-year-old fellow competitor, Chaitanya (played by the incredible cute and bright Rohan Chand). The "boys" have a night out of fun, which you think is in questionable taste and highly inappropriate, until a twist turns the whole evening around.
Extras include audio commentary by Bateman, three deleted and three extended scenes, and a 10:32 behind-the-scenes look. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars
Sabotage (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R 109 min.). Kudos to Arnold Schwarzenegger for trying to shake up his image by playing a darker character, but this was the wrong choice of a film. The major problem is the film, directed and co-written by David Ayer, is disjointed. That more than likely is due to studio tampering; Ayer reportedly has said that the film was heavily cut from its three-hour original length by the studio to make it more of an action film than a mystery thriller, as he intended. In fact, one lengthy deleted scene and the two alternate endings, make Schwarzenegger's character even darker.
John "Breacher" Wharton (Schwarzenegger) leads an elite DEA team that includes James "Monster" Murray (Sam Worthington), Lizzy Murray (Mireille Enos of TV's "The Killing"), Joe "Grinder" Philips (Joe Manganiello), Eddie "Neck" Jordan (Josh Holloway), Bryce "Tripod" McNeely (Kevin Vance), Julius "Sugar" Edmonds (Terrence Howard), Tom "Pyro" Roberts (Max Martini, and "Smoke" Jennings (Mark Schlegel). The film opens as they raid a drug cartel's safe house that has a fortune in neatly stacked cash. As Lizzy, already had infiltrated the cartel, plans were made to steal $10 million of the cash by placing it in the toilet sewer system for later retrieval. The team then blows up the remainder of the cash. Someone steals the $10 million, however, and, because of a parallel FBI investigation, officials know the $10 million has disappeared. (Sorry, I do not buy that they could know this, seeing as the rest of the money was blown up). Nonetheless, the team is investigated and placed off duty.
Eventually, Breacher's team is reinstated, but then they begin to die, one by one -- obviously someone is trying to get payback for the $10 million. Breacher joins forces with FBI agent named Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) to solve the puzzle. The one enjoyable part of the often mystifying film is the car chase that includes automatic weapons fire. Extras include 10 deleted scenes in all (17:13), the two alternate endings (11:03; they make no sense unless you watch the final deleted scene first) and a making-of feature (8:32). The first five and the ninth deleted scene flesh out Brentwood's search for a missing child that is briefly alluded to in the released film. Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 2 stars
Transcendence (Warner, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 119 min.). The problem with making a film about a leap in the transference of human consciousness into computers, or artificial intelligence, is you cannot really show that much. First-time director Wally Pfister (often the cinematographer for director Christopher Nolan) does not solve that problem, which is made worse by lead actor Johnny Depp (as Dr. Will Caster in a somewhat bored performance) becoming just a voice for a major portion of the film. The result is a dull film that is often heavy-handed and just never comes alive.
When anti-technology extremists (including Kate Mara as Bree) try to assassinate Caster, he has his wife and fellow researcher Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) upload his consciousness via the program they had been working on. The process is a success, although old friends Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) and Max Waters (Paul Bettany) do not believe the result is really Caster. Again threatened, Caster's consciousness is moved to the internet, where it basically becomes god. Eventually, he can even heal the sick, including making the blind see.
The movie is a big disappointment and most of the extras and merely short promotional features. Even, a look at what artificial intelligence is (5:20) is bland. Grade: film 2 stars; extras dog
Scanners (1981, Criterion Blu-ray/DVD dual format, R, 103 min.). Much more entertaining -- exploding heads, anybody? -- writer/director David Cronenberg's 1981 film, which spawned a couple of lesser sequels, tackles the what if of extraordinary telepathic powers. Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) has extraordinary — and frighteningly destructive — telepathic abilities, After he is grabbed by agents from a mysterious rogue corporation, led by fatherly scientist Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan of TV's "The Prisoner" and "Danger Man" series), Vale discovers he is not the only possessor of such strange powers and that some of the other "scanners" want world domination, while yet others are trying to stop them. Those wanting to take over the world are led by Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside of "Total Recall," "V: The Final Battle").
Cronenberg emerged from Canada with a succession of interesting, and effective, horror films, this among them. Perhaps, he was ahead of his time with the concerns about what large corporations, with deep pockets, could do. (See the current Syfy Channel series "Continuum," also out of Canada, for a current example.) Then again, the film may seem dated now, especially with Consec's room-sized computer. This new digital transfer was supervised by Cronenberg. Extras include a new documentary, "The Scanners Way" (23 min.), in which director of photography Mark Irwin, special makeup artists Stephan Dupuis and Chris Walas, special effects supervisor Gary Zelle, and visual effects specialist Rick Baker discuss the special effects in the film, its financing, the shooting process, and Cronenberg's directing methods. There also is a new interview with actor Ironside (20 min.) and a 2012 interview with actor Lack (15 min.). Also included are an excerpt from a 1981 Cronenberg interview on "The Bob McLean Show," a new digital transfer of "Stereo" (1969, Cronenberg's first film, about creating artificial telepathy) and a booklet with an essay by critic Kim Newman. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 3.75 stars
Rigor Mortis (Hong Kong, Well Go USA, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 101 min.). Your head might not explode, but your mind might watching this Chinese horror film. Pop singer-turned actor and first-time director Juno Mak references vampire myths worldwide, and throws in ghosts as well, in this film, co-produced by legendary J-horror auteur Takashi Shimizu ("The Grudge"). Ultimately, I do not think the film makes sense, but it has some praise-worthy special effects and some memorable scenes.
Chin Siu-ho (of the "Mr. Vampire" series from Hong Kong) plays a famous actor who is so despondent that after he checks into room 2442 of a dilapidated tower block, he hangs himself. However, Uncle Yau (Anthony Chan), the complex's security guard/manager, saves him. He then meets his eccentric new neighbors, who include a powerful Taoist exorcist and a deeply-troubled housewife (who decides to bring her recently deceased husband back as a vampire). There are female twin ghosts that are really creepy -- lots of bloody tendrils -- and their backstory is a grotesque/horrific rape/murder scene. Mak goes for unique images and strangeness, but does the ending mean none of this happened? The last half hour is filled with special effects and is worth seeing just for the experience. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 2.5 stars
Afflicted (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 86 min.). This is the best "found footage" type film since "Cloverfield." Although only made on a budget slightly above $300,000, the film looks good and is a very effective piece of horror. The two writers-directors, Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, also star in the film -- under their own names -- as two longtime friends who decide to travel around the world, filming their experiences and posting the results on an ongoing blog. Derek (the character) has a brain defect that could kill him at any time.
After meeting up with their friends' band tour in Barcelona, they accompany them to Paris, where Derek has sex with Audrey (Baya Rehaz). Derek starts manifesting unusual and particularly strong physical changes after duo arrive in Italy. Some of the best sequences involve his first attempts at jumping up onto roofs. Once, Interpol comes into the picture and is after Derek, there are two amazing and exciting chase sequences from the viewpoint of the camera strapped to Derek's chest. Extras include four deleted scenes (7:57), a quick behind-the-scenes look (3:51) and an anatomy of the window jump scene (2:30). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2 stars
Jodorowsky's Dune (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 90 min.). Alejandro Jodorowsky, who is extensively interviewed in this documentary, was noted for two strange films, "El Topo" (1970) and "The Holy Mountain" (1973), when he was offered the chance to make any movie he wanted . Despite not having read the book, he selected Frank Herbert's 1965 science fiction masterpiece, "Dune," to be the source of his next film, a film that was never made because Hollywood basically did not trust the director and also feared it would be too long. Jodorowsky says he wanted to do a film that would make the viewers feel like they were on an LASD trip, without taking the drug. He calls the proposed film a "prophet" that would change minds and signal the coming of a new god, a new consciousness.
Currently, the film exists only in Jodorowsky's brain (he was 84 when interviewed) and in a thick book of sketches, illustrations and storyboards -- one of only two in existence -- that he constantly refers to in the film. The film would have had a very interesting cast. Jodorowsky's 12-year-old son, Brontis (also interviewed here), was to play Paul Atreides, and his father had Brontis trained in combat and other physical activities six hours a day for two years in preparation. The director convinced artist Salvador Dali to play the emperor, Orson Welles to play Baron Harkonnen and Mick Jagger and David Carradine for other roles. H.R. Giger (pre-"Alien") has brought on to do design work (some of the most striking images in the film are the Harkonnen castle with an entrance that is the face of the baron; a homage to the same can be seen in "Prometheus" by the way). Also onboard was artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud, and Pink Floyd was to do the music. Members of the heavy rock band Magma were to play Harkonnens too.
Participants in the documentary speak in several languages, including French. There are subtitles. The Only extras are 46:24 worth of deleted scenes, mostly interviews, with three of the 11 segments in French (here the subtitles are optional and must be selected). Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 3 stars
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, Criterion, Blu-ray/DVD dual format, PG, 87 min.). In a previous column, I should have included this other Criterion release of a Wes Anderson film. This stop-motion animated film, an adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic children's novel, tells the story of a clever, quick, nimble and exceptionally well-dressed wild animal. Mr. Fox is a chicken thief turned newspaper reporter. When he settles in a new foxhole with his family, Mr. Fox is tempted by the enormous poultry farms next door, farms owned by the ferociously vicious Boggis, Bunce and Bean. The voice cast includes George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon and Anderson-staples Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. This edition includes audio commentary by Anderson; storyboard animatic for the entire film; footage of the actors voicing their characters, puppet construction, stop-motion set-ups and the recording of the score (by Alexandre Desplat); cast and crew interviews; puppet animation tests; photo galleries; an audio recording of Dahl reading the book; an hour-long 2005 documentary on Dahl; a gallery of Dahl's original manuscripts; and a booklet with an essay by critic Erica Wagner, a 2002 article on Dahl's Gipsy House by Anderson, a comic book used as a prop in the film and other drawings and original paintings. Grade: film and extras 4 stars
TV set update:
Hell on Wheels: The Complete Third Season (eONE, 3 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, NR, 429 min.). This series follows former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) on his quest for vengeance against the Union soldiers who murdered his family, which has led him to the Union Pacific's westward construction of the first transcontinental railroad. After an Indian attack destroyed the railroad settlement, Bohannon plans to take control of the Union Pacific and drive it across the country. The series gives a good picture of the railroad's engineering and construction, as well as the immigrant experience and the plight of emancipated African-Americans during the Reconstruction. Extras include looks at where season two left off and at this season, a set tour with actor Common, behind the music featurettes and 10 Inside the Episodes featurettes. Season four will premiere on AMC on Aug. 2.
How the West Was Won: The Complete Second Season (1978, Warner, 6 DVDs, NR, 900 min.). This is a continuation of the TV series based on the 1962 movie. The Macahans (James Arness as Zeb, Bruce Boxleitner as Luke among them) learn to deal with life in the Colorado wilderness. Zeb gets caught in the middle of a war between the Sioux and the U.S. Army. Luke, still a fugitive, comes across a lethal gang of ex-Confederate gold robbers. Fionnula Flanagan joins the cast as Aunt Molly Culhane. Among the guest stars is Ricardo Montalban, who won an Emmy for his performance. Other guest stars are William Shatner, Tim Matheson and Lloyd Bridges. There are 14 episodes, twice as much as season one contained.
Medical Center: The Complete Fifth Season (1973-74, Warner Archive, 6 DVDs, NR, 1200 min.). Cases this season for Chief of Surgery Joe Gannon (Chad Everett) and Chief of Staff Paul Lochner (James Daly) include hysterical paralysis, sudden infant death, gambling addiction, kidney transplants and seismic-sensitive seizures. Outside the operating room, the season deals with intolerance, returning Vietnam POWs, infidelity, midlife crisis and repressed homosexuality. Guest stars include Stockard Channing, Julie Harris, Jill Clayburgh, Celeste Holm, Meg Foster and Stefanie Powers. Audrey Totter plays Nurse Wilcox. There are 24 episodes. The discs are manufactured on demand and available at www.warnerarchive.com.
Children's Hospital: The Complete Fifth Season (Warner Archive DVD, NR, 156 min.). In this medical series, the doctors are relocated to a pediatric clinic on a U.S. ARMY base in Osaka, Japan. The recent loss of murdered coworker Dr. Blake Downs and this relocation test their solidarity. Episodes cover a star-studded USO show, a wine tasting held during an operation, an old-fashioned day during which modern medicine is forbidden and the closing of Ward 7 for patients' imaginary friends. In the two-part season finale, the doctors are thrust onto the front lines during an enemy attack. The disc is manufactured on demand and available at www.warnerarchive.com.
Black Dynamite: Season One (Warner, Blu-ray or standard DVD, TV MA L, 220 min.). Shown during Cartoon Network's adult swim block, this animated series is based on Scott Sanders, Byron Minns and Michael Jai White's 2009 film of the same name and chronicles the further exploits of the central character, Black Dynamite (voiced by White) -- a 1970s renaissance man with a kung-fu grip -- and his crew. His sidekick is Bullhorn (Minns),with the brains and cunning that complements Black Dynamite's hard-hitting, bone-crushing style. Providing comic relief on the mean streets is Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson) and classing up the place is Honey Bee (Kym Whitley). There are 10 episodes. Extras include video commentaries by writer Carl Jones and cast members; the original pilot; and a behind-the-scenes look.
The Boondocks: The Complete Fourth Season Uncut & Uncensored (Sony, 2 DVDs, NR, 225 min.). This is the final season of the controversial, award-winning animated series, which also is part of Cartoon Network's adult swim programming. the three main family members are Granddad (voiced by John Witherspoon) and his two grandsons, Huey and Riley (both Regina King). Huey is heavily influenced by left wing social movements and social justice leaders, while Riley is more a troublemaker and follower of African-American pop culture. Episodes include an RV chem-lab and senior citizen street fights, as the series continues to be controversial. Guest stars include Michael B. Jordan, Dennis Haysbert and Edward Asner.