‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Movie and 4K UHD Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit Correspondent, Tony Farinella.

Don’t Worry Darling” is a film that immediately caught my attention when I saw the trailer for it back in the summer.  I was impressed with Olivia Wilde’s feature film debut in 2019’s “Booksmart,” and the trailer for “Don’t Worry Darling” made me excited to see what she was going to do with her sophomore directorial film, especially considering the actors she had attached to the project.  The trailer didn’t give away too much, but it looked stylish, interesting and worth checking out.  However, as I’m sure many of you reading this are aware of, the film was not without controversy.  If you are interested in gossip (personally, I’m not), you can Google it and read about it.  I’m going to be reviewing the film on its own merits.

Florence Pugh plays Alice, a 1950’s style housewife, and she’s madly in love with her husband Jack (Harry Styles).  Her days are routine and structured, but she always looks forward to the moment Jack comes home from work at Victory Headquarters, so they can be together. They have a healthy and active sex life.  When the subject of having children is brought up, her friend Bunny (Olivia Wilde) is quick to shoot it down, as she proclaims they only have time for each other.  Jack works a lot in this utopian experimental society where all the men work and all the women cook, clean and shop.  It is the 1950’s to the core.  The men seem happy and the women seem happy as well.

However, it is all turned upside down when Margaret (KiKi Layne) is shunned from their community for not following the rules.  There is a very specific set of rules for women.  They are not to ask too many questions about their husband’s work or venture off to the headquarters.  Margaret has done something to leave her on the outside looking in when it comes to this community. Alice meets their leader Frank, played by Chris Pine, in a chilling performance.  He is a charismatic cult leader, and all of the men are looking to impress him and stay on his good side.  He has a personality where people are drawn to him and his every word. Pine really leans into this, and he’s magic on screen.  Alice, however, is starting to suspect that something is not right about Frank or Victory Headquarters.

DON’T WORRY DARLING Copyright: © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Caption: (L-r) OLIVIA WILDE as Bunny, NICK KROLL as Dean and CHRIS PINE as Frank in New Line Cinema’s “DON’T WORRY DARLING,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Don’t Worry Darling” is truly a tale of two movies.  You have the first hour, which is a little sluggish and bland, but it’s necessary to set up this world the filmmaker and writers have created. You have the second half where things are revealed to the audience, and the film starts to let us take a peek into the inner workings of the characters and their backstories. As a viewer, I admired the fact they didn’t spell everything out to us.  The ending is even ambiguous, which I appreciated.  All in all, though, I found the film to be Wilde paying homage to a film like “The Stepford Wives” or the works of Jordan Peele.  She touches on themes of toxic masculinity, obedience and the price people will pay for the good life.

The strongest part of the film, far and away, is the performance of Florence Pugh.  She’s one of the finest young actresses working today, and she is intense, emotional and incredibly powerful in each and every scene.  In my opinion, it’s a performance worthy of an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Without her performance, this film doesn’t stand a chance.  She’s the star here, and it’s a performance which is so raw and vulnerable.  The cinematography is also beautiful, and, in 4K, it is colorful, vibrant and full of life.  It’s a great-looking film.

DON’T WORRY DARLING (L-R) OLIVIA WILDE as Bunny and NICK KROLL as Dean in New Line Cinema’s “DON’T WORRY DARLING,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The film is flawed, however, as there are pacing issues and it does have a lot of ideas but doesn’t always know where it wants to go with all of them.  When the film works, it works extremely well.  When the film doesn’t work, it’s a bit of a slog to sit through and a little too stylish for its own good.  They had a lot of ideas here, as mentioned, but not all of them are fully fleshed out or given the time to really shine on screen. Overall, though, I admired the ambition behind this film, and I left the experience feeling like I had seen a thought-provoking and multifaceted film that doesn’t get everything right, but the things it does get right are quite impactful and meaningful. If they had a clearer vision for this film, I would have liked it a lot more.

* * * out of * * * *

4K Info: “Don’t Worry Darling” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  It is rated R for sexuality, violent content, and language, and has a running time of 122 minutes. It also comes with a digital copy of the film.

4K Video Info: The HDR is mesmerizing on this film.  A lot of the film uses natural light, and it looks fantastic in 4K. The movie stars look like movie stars, and you also get to feel like you are really living in this world with eye-popping visuals.

4K Audio Info:  The Dolby Atmos soundtrack was the right choice for this flick. There are a lot of great bubblegum pop love songs played throughout this film, and they sound flawless here. The dialogue-heavy scenes are also easy to understand and hear without any issues.  Subtitles are included in English, French and Spanish.

Special Features:

The Making of “Don’t Worry Darling”

Alice’s Nightmare Deleted Scene

Should You Buy It?

This is a tough one.  I have a feeling this film might gain cult status down the line, but as of right now I can’t recommend you buy it at full retail price.  When it goes on sale, I think it’s worth picking up.  This is an example of a film which was doomed from the start because some audiences and critics made up their mind on it before they ever sat down and watched it.  It’s a shame because this is a good movie, and I liked it.  Not everything here works, but it’s hard to deny the work of Florence Pugh and the directional eye of Olivia Wilde.  It’s far from perfect, but I think with repeated viewings, it is a film that people will appreciate in the future. There is a lot to like here, but I also can’t ignore the bloated plot.  It is a stylish looking film, but at times, it has too much style and not enough substance.  It would have benefited from a healthy balance of both.  The 4K looks and sounds really, really good.  I was very impressed with what Warner Brothers did with this 4K release.  The lack of special features is not surprising, considering the drama surrounding the film.  For now, I’d recommend you stream it on HBO Max and buy it in the future.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘The Polar Express’ Movie and 4K UHD Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

It has been eighteen years since I first watched “The Polar Express,” and quite frankly, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect because of the length between viewings.  I remembered the film had stunning visuals and great computer-animated graphics.  However, I did not remember what the film was about or how ir unfolded.  So, in a sense, I was walking into this film as a total newcomer.  It was directed by legendary director Robert Zemeckis, and it reunited him with actor Tom Hanks as they had worked together previously on “Forrest Gump” and “Castaway.” This was clearly a different project for the two of them, but they still were able to produce movie magic on screen.

Hero Boy, one of six characters voiced by Tom Hanks, is starting to wonder if Santa is real as he gets a little older.  He’s even started to put doubts into the head of his younger sister.  His parents have even noticed he’s not staying up all night anymore on Christmas Eve to wait for Santa. This doesn’t bring any joy to Hero Boy, but it’s the reality he’s living in at this point in his life.  His skepticism is put to the test when the Polar Express train arrives outside his house with the Conductor (also voiced by Hanks). The Polar Express will take him directly to the North Pole along with other children on Christmas Eve.

On the train, he meets Hero Girl (Nona Gaye), a young girl who has never, ever stopped believing in Christmas. The Christmas spirit is alive and well with her.  He also meets Know-It-All (Eddie Deezen), and he certainly lives up to his name with his mouth that runs a mile a minute with various facts and statements about trains and Christmas.  Along the way, the Polar Express picks up Billy (Peter Scolari).  He’s shy, lonely, and has had some bad luck on Christmas.  Because of this, he’s struggling to find any joy or satisfaction on Christmas, whatsoever.  Between Hero Boy, Hero Girl, and Billy, they form a friendship and help each other as they try to get to the North Pole.

On the way to the North Pole, there are dancing waiters that bring out hot chocolate (who doesn’t love hot chocolate around the holidays?), a hobo on top of the train (voiced by, you guessed it, Hanks), a mean-spirited puppet (Hanks again), and numerous other trials and tribulations.  Along the way, Hero Boy is starting to think that maybe Santa is real after all and maybe, just maybe, he should start to regain his spirit and believe again.  After all, considering all he has gone through on his way to the North Pole, it’s getting harder and harder to believe that Santa isn’t real.  The things that are happening are so fantastical and so magical, it has to be the work of Santa.

The Polar Express” absolutely blew me away.  The film runs at 100 minutes, and there is not a dull moment to be found here. What I loved most about the film was its ability to make me, as an audience member, feel something.  Even at age thirty-seven, this is a film which had me teary eyed and emotional.  The great thing about this is that none of it was forced.  It all worked out because of the out-of-this-world visuals, the big heart of this film, and the epic direction of Zemeckis.  There is no stone left unturned in this film.  It feels like a big, sweeping epic Christmas story which matters.  It also understands the importance of Christmas and believing.

I love a good old-fashioned Hollywood story told the right way.  That is exactly what “The Polar Express” is, and it gets all of the details right.  At first, the life-like nature of the characters is a little peculiar and even creepy, but before long, it adds to the charm.  I absolutely loved this movie, and it was such a pleasant surprise for me. I have seen a lot of Christmas movies in my lifetime, but very few have captured the grand scale of the event like “The Polar Express.”  Leave it to Hanks and Zemeckis to get it right.  It’s rare that I’m watching a film and I get completely lost in the story.  With each and every adventure, I was captivated and in awe.

This film warmed my heart and made me feel good.  Films like this are rare.  When they are released, they need to be praised, valued and appreciated.  This is a big screen Christmas movie that knows exactly what needs to be done and how to do it.  It’s about tugging at your heartstrings in a way that is not manipulative or cheap.  It is about making us, the audience, believe, without being too corny or silly.  It is about making us smile without ever pandering to us or trying to pull the wool over our eyes. “The Polar Express” is a Christmas classic and my kind of Christmas movie.  I wish I could stand on top of a mountain and scream, “I love this movie!”

* * * * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: ‘The Polar Express” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  The film is rated G and has a running time of 100 minutes.  It also comes with a digital copy of the film.

4K Info:  I recommend you watch this film with the lights off.  I noticed a vast improvement in the picture quality when I watched the movie in the dark.  It’s absolutely gorgeous in 4K HDR.  It just added to my enjoyment of the film.  When people talk about films that were made for 4K, they are talking about films like “The Polar Express.”  I couldn’t believe the attention to detail on this transfer.  They really put their heart and soul into the making of this film, and there were times where I was completely and utterly blown away by what I was watching on my TV screen.  It was a work of art.

Audio Info:  The Dolby Atmos track also enhances the viewing experience as it’s a big, booming soundtrack.  For a movie like this, which is a big movie, you expect it to look and sound big.  They accomplished both of those tasks here.

Special Features:

You Look Familiar

A Genuine Ticket to Ride

True Inspirations: An Author’s Adventure

Behind the Scenes of “Believe”

Flurry of Effects

Smokey and Steamer

Josh Groban at the Greek

Meet The Snow Angels

Theatrical Trailer

THQ Game Demo

Should You Buy It?

Yes, yes, and YES.  “The Polar Express” is a top-of-the-line 4K film, and it is also top-of-the-line with its audio and visuals.  Everything here is 4 out of 4 stars, except for the fact that the special features are transferred over from the previous Blu-ray.  Normally, I wouldn’t mind this, but I felt the special features were a little lacking here, and there are so many questions regarding this film and especially the filmmaking process.  I would have loved a commentary track with Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis, for example.  I know it can be hard to track people down these days with so much going on, but for a film of this scale, it would have been worth it.  Despite these minor issues, this film gets the highest recommendation I can give a 4K film.  I was watching it on a day where I was feeling a little down, and it instantly cheered me up.  That is the highest praise I can give to a film.  I don’t feel like enough people talk about “The Polar Express” in the same fashion they do other Christmas films, and they should, because it’s a Christmas classic in every sense of the word.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘A Christmas Story’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

If it’s Christmas time, you know it means twenty-four hours of “A Christmas Story” from director Bob Clark on TBS and TNT.  It has become a holiday tradition for many people and a good background distraction for families as they gather to open presents, eat and spend time together. As with any Christmas film which is hugely popular, people are known to quote the lines from this one as they hold it near and dear to their hearts.  However, how does “A Christmas Story” hold up in 2022?

A Christmas Story” is set in Northern Indiana and follows young Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), a nine-year-old kid who wants one thing for Christmas—a Red Ryder BB Gun.  However, he is told by his mother, his teacher and even a mall Santa that he will shoot his eye out.  This does not stop him from pulling out all the stops to get it though, including leaving behind little hints for his mother.  Ralphie also has a peculiar little brother named Randy who likes to play with his food and hide in tiny spaces.  He’s also joined by his overworked mother (Melinda Dillon) and cranky father (Darren McGavin).

The film is told from Ralphie POV as an adult as he looks back on this particular Christmas.  We get to see him at school as he’s trying to focus on his classes while also pining over the Red Ryder BB gun. He’s also dealing with the local school bully named Scut Farkus (Zack Ward) who terrorizes Ralphie and his friends Flick and Schwartz, played by Scott Schwartz and R.D. Robb.  They get into the usual tomfoolery at school such as Flick getting his tongue stuck to a post outside school, which causes him to need medical attention.

Ralphie’s father is also obsessed with a leg lamp which he sees as a major award, even though it brings his wife a great deal of shame and embarrassment.  The father is also dealing with being hounded by the dogs next door.  There is a lot going on in Ralphie’s life, but one thing remains the same—he wants the Red Ryder BB gun.  He is counting down the days until Christmas, and he is hoping he will find it under the tree, no matter what it takes.  I think we can all relate to that period of time in our lives as a child hoping for that special present as if it were the most important thing in the world.

I do feel though that “A Christmas Story” is overrated simply because of the fact it’s been on TNT and TBS since 1997. Sometimes if an audience sees something enough, they tend to fall in love with it based on repetition or the memories it conjures up for them. It is not a bad movie by any means.  It is based on “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash” by Jean Shepherd which, according to my research, featured semi-fictional tidbits. I just don’t think there is a story or a plot here.  It is filled with movie moments and memorable lines which have stayed with people throughout the years. My favorite Christmas movie of all time is “It’s a Wonderful Life” with “Elf” coming in at number two, which I recently reviewed.

There is humor to be found here, and I understand what they were trying to go for with the story and the theme.  I just didn’t feel like it was enough to make a full-length film.  Even though it’s only 93 minutes, there are times where the film drags and feels a little insignificant. I didn’t hate the film nor did I love it either.  It’s watchable, but there is nothing which really stands out to me.  The film doesn’t have an “it factor” like the other two Christmas movies I mentioned.  It’s just mindless silliness, which is fine, but it doesn’t make for a great movie.  It makes for an average movie.

* * ½ out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “A Christmas Story” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment that also comes with a digital copy of the film.  It is rated PG and runs at 93 minutes.

4K Info:  They have done a masterful job of cleaning up this picture. I’ve seen it many times over the years in bits and pieces on TV, but this is, far and away, the best it has ever looked.  There is no grain whatsoever on the picture.  It is crystal clear, and the HDR gives the film a new life.

Audio Info: The audio formats are DTS-HD MA: English 2.0 Mono and Dolby Digital: English and French. Subtitles are included in English, Spanish, and French. The audio has also never sounded better on 4K.  You can hear everything perfectly, and the sound is consistent throughout the film.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary by Bob Clark and Peter Billingsley

Christmas in Ohio: A Christmas Story House

Another Christmas Story

Daisy Red Ryder: A History

Get a Leg Up

“Flash Gordon” Deleted Script Pages

The Leg Lamp Spot

Jean Shepherd Original Radio Reading

Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid (HD, 38:07)

Flick’s Tongue

Theatrical Trailer

Should You Buy It?

If we are strictly talking about the audio and video of this 4K release of “A Christmas Story,” this is a must own if you are a fan of the film.  Having seen it on TV at many Christmas parties and also having watched the Blu-ray in the past, this is an incredible transfer on 4K.  The film looks great. Keep in mind, the filmmakers have set this story in the 1940’s, even though it was released in 1983. It looks out of this world on 4K.  I was really impressed with the audio and video here and every little detail that was popping up on screen. I give the audio and video four stars on this release.  You get the special features that were on the Blu-ray in the past, which is expected.  If you are a fan of the film, you NEED to own it on 4K, there is no question about it.  If you have grown tired of the film or don’t find it funny (I fall into the latter category), you can pass on it.  However, I have a feeling this is going to be a hot-seller for fans of Christmas movies. It just doesn’t work for me.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

Interview with the Cast and Director of ‘The Menu’

The Menu” is an inspired black comedy featuring an incredibly talented cast of actors who play characters invited to a remote island where celebrity chef, Julian Slowik, is preparing quite the cuisine for them. As the night goes on, however, the guests come to see that Chef Slowik’s intentions are anything but gracious as he looks to punish those who cannot take enough time to taste the food they are eating. In this day and age when we are too busy shoving food into our mouths as life moves by fast, this motion picture reminds you of the importance of savoring every bite.

I got to sit in on a press conference for “The Menu” which was moderated by Rolling Stone magazine’s senior editor, David Fear. It featured actors Nicholas Hoult, Anya Taylor-Joy, John Leguizamo, Aimee Carrero, Judith Light and Hong Chau, and they were joined by then movie’s director, Mark Mylod, who is best known for helming episodes of “Succession” and “Shameless.”

When it comes to black comedies, I always wonder how they are conceived and put together. Making a comedy movie is hard enough, but putting a black comedy has got to be even harder as you are trying to get the audience to laugh as things no one would laugh at in real life. On top of that, this movie could be described as many different things such as, as Fear put it, “a broad social satire, it’s a Grand Guignol horror film, it’s a very dry comedy, and it’s a high tragedy.” Taking all this into account, one has to wonder how Mylod managed to find the right balance for everything.

Mark Mylod:   First of all, instinctive in reading the script, I think one of the things that drew us all to the project was that lovely mashup of tones that I think as quite a small target to hit. But we were all attracted to how specific that was. And then I think for me it was the few days or the week that we spent doing our version of rehearsals, which was basically to sit together or in smaller groups in a room and just talk about issues that interested us in the script and in our story and about our characters. And in doing so, it was perhaps less about what we were actually saying and more about us all tuning in by osmosis, perhaps unconsciously to get on the same level. I think it’s a Sydney Pollack quote about everybody making the same movie, so that by the time we were on set, we all tuned in together and we continued to do so with the huge benefit of shooting the film almost entirely chronologically.

One of my favorite performances in “The Menu” comes from Hong Chau who portrays the right-hand person to celebrity chef Julian Slowik (played by Ralph Fiennes), Elsa. Considering how the screenplay only gives her so much to work with, I couldn’t help but wonder how Chau managed to give us such a fascinating character in the process. Her answer to this helps illuminate the way she creates a character.

Hong Chau: I signed on not really being able to picture what the final product would look like. That was exciting to me, because I was curious to see how it would turn out and I knew that the people involved were great collaborators to take that leap of faith with. I was a huge fan of Succession and I knew that Mark (Mylod) would be able to take these characters who are unlikable for so many reasons, and somehow weave together a story where you cared about what happened, not necessarily to them, but cared about the situation. It was just surprising that I felt even some sort of heartbreak for some of the characters, and that’s just a special gift that Mark has.

Another big question I had was for John Leguizamo who plays a movie star who is washed-up, past his prime and, most importantly, has no name. This movie star could be any we know from when we were growing up or from today’s world which is filled with an endless variety of actors playing superheroes and comic-book characters. Leguizamo wrote a book back in 2007 entitled “Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas, and All the Rest of My Hollywood Friends: My Life,” and he was more than honest about the many actors and movie stars he has worked with. When it came to his nameless character, I had to wonder which actor/movie star he based him on.

John Leguizamo: I’m not being typecast here, so because I’m not washed up and I’m not an action star, so I’m not a washed-up action star. But I’ve worked with a lot of action stars who became washed up and I modeled it after one person in particular who was a bit of an a-hole and a bully. Okay, Steven Seagal. I modeled after Steven Seagal because I did a movie with him and in rehearsals, he knocked me out and he didn’t care.

The movie Leguizamo is referring to is “Executive Decision,” an action film from 1996 directed by Stuart Baird. Leguizamo played US Army Special Forces officer, Captain Carlos “Rat” Lopez, and Seagal played his superior, Lieutenant Colonel Austin Travis. There are many stories about what happened behind the scenes on “Executive Decision,” and they all describe how Seagal slammed Leguizamo against a wall when he laughed at him for taking himself far too seriously.

John Leguizamo: (Seagal) hit me with an elbow in my solar plexus and knocked me against the wall, because I was laughing at him. I forgot to mention that part. I was a bit of a dick then. Sorry, I had to give that fact. So that’s who I was modeling after. I’d seen these privileged guys, and these guys who come into a room with so much narcissism and self, it’s like they suck the oxygen out of the room because they want all the attention and everything’s got to be on them, otherwise they turn negative. So that’s what I was trying to create, because it doesn’t naturally come to me.

And when it comes to these characters in general, what I admired most was how each actor inhabited them. These characters could have been portrayed broadly, but they were not which I thought was great. When it came to character descriptions, one of my favorites came from actress Judith Light who played Anne, a longtime fan of Chef Slowik’s who often visits his restaurant along with her husband Richard (played by Reed Birney).

Judith Light: When you watch a woman who has lived her life giving up her soul and herself in order to have the privilege that she so desperately wants, and begins to realize through the course of the film is that you think it’s one way and it’s not that way. It turns into something else and you begin to see that she wakes up as she realizes that her life is not what she wanted it to be. She’s not who she wants to be and she’s not living the way that she wants to live. And so, there is this bubbling, this cauldron that’s underneath all the time within the dynamic. And where that begins to shift and play out is in relation to Anya’s character. You begin to see that there’s a uniting of these two women in a very simple-I think maybe we say three words to each other in the entire film-but you can see the process of what’s happening within the heart and soul of this person. You don’t really see it until things begin to unfold in the most powerful, painful kinds of ways. So, between the two of us, between Reed and myself, I felt a very special and deep kind of rehearsal. Mark was saying in the beginning we all had these rehearsals with each other, and we improvised something between the two of us that was so moving and poignant and powerful because you know you walk into a restaurant and you see those two people. They’re not talking to each other; they never talk to each other. And you say to your partner, “I’m never going to be that person. I’m never going to be the person in that relationship.” And there you are, and one day you wake up and there you are and you are that person. And so, we were discovering all those things all of the time. So, Mark really gave us the depth and the breadth within the creativity of those rehearsals, and being on the set as well, our reactions to other people that really illuminated, and you begin to see this character; you see her transformation over time.

“The Menu” comes to us courtesy of Searchlight Pictures, and it opens in theaters on November 18, 2022. I highly recommend you check it out!

‘The Menu’ Serves Up Quite a Devious Dish

To me, “The Menu” is what Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” would be had it been set in a restaurant. While not as insanely crazy as “Midsommar,” this film is an insidiously clever black comedy which follows a group of people as they travel to a remote island (is there any other kind in a movie like this?) where an exclusive restaurant named Hawthorn, which is run by celebrity chef Julian Slowik, is located. But while the chef has prepared quite the cuisine for his selected guests, some sinister intentions are eventually unveiled for all to see which turns a special occasion into an inescapable nightmare. It all made me wonder if the screenplay was written by individuals who had been waiting tables for too long and been stiffed on tips one too many times. Or maybe it was conceived by a talented chef who was sick of people eating food and not tasting it. Or perhaps it was written by someone eager to illustrate the ultimate wet dream of Gordon Ramsay. Seriously, I can’t wait to hear what Gordon or even the Swedish Chef have to say about this.

“The Menu” starts with us being introduced to the guests who have been carefully invited to this especially special restaurant. Among them are a trio of drunk tech workers who have plenty of money to burn, an older couple who have visited Hawthorn several times previously, a celebrated restaurant critic and her devoted magazine editor, and a middle-age Hollywood movie star whose relationship with his assistant, who is by his side on this trip, is not entirely professional. From the outset, it looks like we have the typical cast of characters here, but this will be challenged as the filmmakers are quick to play with our expectations.

Also onboard is Tyler (played by Nicholas Hoult), a super-obsessed foodie who aspires to learn everything he can about cooking from Slowik. With him is his date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), whose love of food doesn’t come even close to his, and he is quick to admonish her for smoking as it will ruin her palette. When it comes to an exclusive restaurant like this, you want to spend more time tasting than eating, and this is echoed by Slowik once his guests are seated at their tables.

As everyone is led on a tour through the island by Slowik’s trusted right-hand person, Elsa (Hong Chau), they are told the ingredients for tonight’s meals come from the island and the nearby ocean. But once we get to see the employees’ sleeping quarters, which look similar to the beds those cult members slept on in “Midsommar,” this our first hint that things are going to go haywire as his fellow cooks act in a very unified way, and this made even clearer when Slowik claps his hands loudly to get everyone’s attention. Yes, that’s all he needs to do to bring his fellow cooks in line, and they are ever so quick to do so in the process.

Slowik tells everyone that the mission of this evening is not to eat, but to instead taste and savor the food given to them. But as the evening goes on, we see he is not out to congratulate his guests as he is to belittle them. This becomes apparent when he makes a deliberate mockery out of “Taco Tuesday” and presents his guests with tortillas which are as tasty as they are far too revealing. From there, the party becomes very dark and oppressive in a way only the Hawthorne employees could see coming.

Revealing more about “The Menu” might take away from your enjoyment, and I refuse to rob you of its many surprises. What I can tell you is that it is a lot like those movies which really gain my affection; it’s like an onion which invites you to peel back its many layers. And once you get past the final layer, you will find yourself wanting to watching this film again as putting all the pieces together will be irresistible. Moreover, this film held my attention from start to finish as I constantly wondered what direction the story would take next as we are taking from one food course to the next with little in the way of hesitation.

At its heart. Director Mark Mylod and screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy look to satirize the cruel divisions between the haves and have nots and of a society that never seems to have time for the finer things in life. Granted, I came out of “The Menu” thinking the satire could have been even deeper and sharper, but its is sharp enough to make for a gleefully twisted motion picture, and I am always looking for a good black comedy.

I was also struck by how good the actors are as they could have played their roles ever so broadly, but instead find nuances to where their characters are not mere cliches. Both Janet McTeer and Paul Adelstein make renowned restaurant critic Lillian Bloom and her magazine editor Ted into more than caricatures as their surface appearances can only hide the hideous takedowns they have written and published on restaurants past for so long. Rob Yang, Arturo Castro and Mark St. Cyr at first give us the kind of tech gurus who think they have it made to where money can seemingly buy everything, and each actor makes the ego-crushing their characters endure all the more brutal.

Nicholas Hoult quickly turns Tyler into a believably devoted foodie to where the reveal of his cooking style made me feel strangely sorry for him. And I can always count on John Leguizamo to give me a great time as he gives us the kind of washed-up actor here which he has had the misfortune of working with in real life, and Aimee Carrero has some choice moments as his long-time assistant Felicity who learns there is actually a downside to not having student loans to par off.

But there are some performances I really want to single out here, and among them is Ralph Fiennes’s. As celebrity chef Julian Slowik, I expected the actor who was the first to ever utter the word “fuck” in a James Bond movie (“No Time to Die” to be exact) to turn this character into some demented madman. But while Julian does have some demented plans for this evening, Fiennes makes him at times empathetic as he shows an emotional pain searing through which we can see in his eyes. This is especially apparent in his scenes Anna Taylor-Joy as her character of Margot is the one who was not actually invited to this particular dining experience, and this results in exhibiting some kind of hope that this dinner might have a positive outcome.

As for Taylor-Joy, best known for a Netflix miniseries I should have watched already, “The Queen’s Gambit,” she has the unique challenge of being the audience surrogate as, like her, we are desperately looking for a way out of this hellish situation which does not look to have a happy ending. She makes Margot an especially strong character even as fear threatens to engulf her every second. Watching her here, it’s no wonder she was picked to star in the upcoming “Furiosa” prequel.

I also really admired Hong Chau’s enigmatic performance as Chef Slowik’s right hand person, Elsa. From the screenplay, only so much is revealed about Elsa, and yet Chau turned into one of the most riveting characters to be found in “The Menu.” Watching Chau here makes me wonder what kind of backstory she created for Elsa as she dares you to see if you have the guts to peel back her many layers to reveal who she really is underneath her orderly appearance.

I really do hope audiences get to check out “The Menu” and that it doesn’t get lost in the midst of all the blockbusters and Oscar hopefuls which are about to invade multiplexes everywhere. Movies like these tend to get smothered too quickly as they have to deal with the latest superhero adventure, sequel or potential franchise installment. What’s wrong with enjoying movies which are standalone ones anyway?

Also, I cannot wait to recommend it to people like my dad and brother, both of whom love to cook. There’s no doubt they will be tickled to death by this one, and they will come out of it thankful that they are not running their own restaurants, something which is the furthest from their minds.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is considered a Christmas classic to many film buffs.  I vaguely remember watching it back in the day and even a few years ago.  Of course, everyone knows about Cousin Eddie and his antics, as people usually love to dress up like the character along with Clark Griswold.  However, watching the film in 2022, I have to say, it’s just not funny.  The late, great Gene Siskel used to call these types of films, “A comedy without laughs.” If your one goal is to make the audience laugh and you fail at that task, your comedy is dead on arrival.  However, I understand comedy is subjective, so what I find unfunny might be hilarious to someone else out there.

Christmas is right around the corner, and Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is doing anything and everything in his power to make sure it is absolutely perfect without any flaws.  He’s not afraid to go all out on presents, finding the perfect tree, and, of course, twinkling lights.  At first, he thinks he will be spending it with his wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and their two children Rusty and Audrey (Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis) along with some in-laws.  However, he did not plan on the appearance of the crude Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his camper, which comes ripe with fecal matter and doesn’t exactly look great outside the Griswold home.

I can’t say there is much of a plot to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”  It is simply Chevy Chase doing bad slapstick for a little over ninety-minutes with odd facial reactions as he stumbles and bumbles through situations with family and co-workers.  I didn’t find him very relatable or interesting.  He’s a sarcastic personality, but he doesn’t come across as a likable goof.  He’s mostly an obsessive-compulsive personality that is putting too much emphasis on lights, a Christmas tree, and getting a Christmas bonus to install a pool. He seems more concerned with making everything just right instead of spending actual time with his family. When I was watching the film, I thought to myself, “Why is he making such a fuss?”  He’s making a fuss, so we can watch him fail over and over again in what is supposed to be comedic fashion, but the laughs were few and far between.

The film has a great supporting cast: Doris Roberts, Diane Ladd, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Sam McMurray, to name a few.  The problem is the characters are not fleshed out well enough.  You have your standard in-laws without much to say or do except act like goofy cartoons. I found the film to be very hokey and one-dimensional. A really good Christmas movie needs to be funny or heartfelt, or even both, and this one is neither.  The Clark Griswold character is annoying, the in-laws are irritating, and Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) isn’t given anything to do except play the exasperated wife. The children are just there to be annoyed as well.  I felt as though they had the ingredients, the actors, and the idea for a funny movie here, but they didn’t have a story to go along with it.

Let’s look at it this way—who can’t relate to the holidays and family drama?  Most people love the holidays, myself included, but they know they can come with certain baggage and drama either from your own family or from in-laws.  It’s a highly relatable concept.  There is material here for a funny comedy about dealing with the stress of Christmas and all of the various personalities interacting with one another. However, too often, the film relies on Clark falling down, getting hurt, or making bizarre facial reactions as he does slapstick comedy.  For me, personally, this film was not a funny or enjoyable experience.  It was quite tedious.  I know I’m probably in the minority on this one based on the popularity of this film over the past thirty plus years.

* ½ out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  The film is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 97 minutes.  It comes with a digital copy of the film as well.

4K Info:  The HDR is strong on this film here.  This is a very vivid, clear, and vibrant picture.  They cleaned up a lot to make this film look full of life on 4K.  It’s a great looking transfer.

Audio Info: The film comes on the following audio formats: DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, English Stereo, and Dolby Digital: French and Spanish. Subtitles are included in English, Spanish, and French.  The audio is on-point from start to finish.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary featuring Director Jeremiah S. Chechik, Randy Quaid, Beverly D’Angelo, Johnny Galecki, Miriam Flynn, and producer Matty Simmons.

Theatrical Trailer

Should You Buy It?

I think you knew before reading this review how you felt about the film itself, so you are probably looking for information on the visuals and the audio of the film along with the special features.  Sadly, there is only one real special feature here, and it is a commentary track that has been used on other releases of this film. I’d say the audio and video are 3 out of 4 stars.  I really enjoyed looking at the wintery images of the snow and outdoor scenes, the faces look a lot cleaner, and the overall picture is quite beautiful to look at on 4K HDR. It’s a big upgrade over the grainy Blu-Ray release.  If you are a fan of the film, you will be very happy with how the film looks and sounds on 4K.  The audio is consistent throughout and not too loud.  It can stay on the same volume throughout the film.  If you want to own this film on the best possible format, this is the way to go.  It’s a quality release.  If you are like me and not a fan of the film at all and don’t find it funny, you can safely pass on this release.  This comes down to a matter of comedic taste, which is subjective.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘Elf’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

This review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

“Elf” is a movie which, for all intents and purposes, should have no right being as good as it is when you read its plot description. It’s about an adult elf named Buddy (Will Ferrell) who has been raised by elves. He doesn’t seem to realize that he doesn’t really fit in with the rest of elves, as he’s so much bigger than them and not able to perform some of their day-to-day tasks.  He was adopted by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) after Santa Claus (Ed Asner) took him in.  Before long, Papa Elf comes clean and tells Buddy his real father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), lives in New York.  Walter never knew he had a son because he was given up for adoption by his birth mother, Susan Wells, before she passed away.

For all his life, all Buddy has known is the North Pole.  He loves Christmas with all his heart and soul without being obnoxious about it. If Christmas ever had an ambassador, it would certainly be Buddy the Elf.  From here, the film has your fish-out-of-water storyline with Buddy, an oversized elf, trying to find his dad in New York and navigate the big city.  It provides for some hilarious moments as no one really notices the fact he’s dressed up like an elf.  It’s New York, after all. People dress up and portray other people all of the time, so he doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.  He even ends up being mistaken for an employee at Gimbels.

This is where he meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), someone who needs a little bit of a spark in her life as she’s struggling to find happiness and pay her bills. Buddy is the perfect person for her to meet because he’s always in a good mood, filled with Christmas spirit, and knows how to put a smile on her face. He also ends up meeting Walter who, at first, thinks Buddy is absolutely out of his mind.  There is no way he could have had a child thirty years ago, and there is no way it’s a human being who thinks he’s an elf. After taking a DNA test, he ends up finding out that Buddy is indeed his son and introduces him to his wife, Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and son Michael (Daniel Tay).

Emily immediately takes a liking to Buddy as he’s thoughtful, kind and a positive soul.  He might make a mess from time-to-time, but he’s so darn lovable that it’s hard to stay mad at him for too long. Michael, on the other hand, is not sure what to make of Buddy as he sees him as embarrassing.  Before long, he sees him as the older brother he never had since they have snowball fights together, and they eventually build a solid bond and connection.  Walter, however, is struggling with his work at a publishing company, and the last thing he needs right now is Buddy the Elf creating drama in his life.

The number one reason “Elf” works is the cast.  Let’s start with Will Ferrell.  This is a performance where he’s totally and completely committed to whatever the film asks him to do.  Sometimes, he needs to play it a little big and over-the-top, and he hits all of the right notes.  In other scenes, he needs to be a little more innocent and naïve, and he nails these aspects of the character.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing Buddy the Elf except for Ferrell.  He has the perfect straight man counterpart in James Caan. This is not the type of film you would expect from Caan, but he fits in perfectly as he expresses so much with his face and body language.  Ferrell and Caan produce comedy gold.

One cannot also overlook the great work of Zooey Deschanel.  Her character of Jovie is incredibly sweet, thoughtful and kind to Buddy.  She never judges or thinks less of him.  He also brings out the best in her.  They are perfect together on screen. The same can be said for Mary Steenburgen as she’s always so warm and inviting with all her film performances.  She sees the good in everyone.  There is also solid supporting work from Faizon Love, Peter Dinklage, Amy Sedaris, Andy Richter and Artie Lange. Director Jon Favreau even makes an appearance as a doctor.

That is another aspect which works just right: the direction of Jon Favreau.  The film is driven by interesting characters, and he finds just the right actors to portray them.  He also knows how to get the most out of David Berenbaum’s script.  He really lets it breathe, and there are so many great lines of dialogue which have stood the test of time and are still repeated to this day, nearly twenty years later. This is my wife’s favorite Christmas movie, and I think it might be mine as well as we watch it together every Christmas.  It’s funny, sweet, heartfelt, and it has a heart of gold.  It feels like an adult Christmas film that also knows how to appeal to kids as well, which is not an easy thing to accomplish. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “Elf” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It has a running time of 97 minutes and is rated PG for some mild rude humor and language. The film also comes with a digital copy.

4K Info:  This 4K release is absolutely stunning. It’s truly a visual feast for the eyes.  They have upgraded the film in a way as to where it truly feels like you are in New York around Christmas time.  It has great color tones that are enhanced to the max with HDR.  It really is a treat to watch as it looks so bright and colorful on this format.

Audio Info: The audio formats are DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, French, and Spanish. Subtitles are included in English, French, and Spanish. The sound is terrific.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with Jon Favreau and Will Ferrell

Tag Along with Will Ferrell

Film School for Kids

How They Made the North Pole

Lights, Camera, Puffin!

That’s a Wrap…

Kids on Christmas

Deck the Halls

Santa Mania

Christmas in Tinseltown

Fact Track

Focus Points

Elf Karaoke – We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Deck the Halls, Jingle Bells

Theatrical Trailer

Deleted/Alternate Scenes with optional commentary by Director Jon Favreau

Should You Buy It?

If you don’t want to be a cotton headed ninny muggings, you will go out and buy “Elf” on 4K and add it to your Christmas movie collection.  As with almost all of the older films which have been upgraded to 4K from Warner Brothers, they have transported the same special features from the Blu-ray.  However, this is one of the better looking 4K transfers I’ve seen of a film which is nearly twenty-years-old. There is a lot to like with both the audio and visual aspects of the film.  I was really impressed with the audio quality and crispiness of the picture quality.  That is the great thing about 4K—it really gives you a new appreciation for some of your favorite films.  This is a feel-good film, and we need more feel-good films these days, especially with Christmas around the corner.  I highly recommend you pick up the 4K of “Elf.”  You won’t be disappointed!

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘Game Change’ – When Julianne Moore Gave Empathy to Sarah Palin

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written in 2012. With the 2022 midterm elections now concluded, I thought it would be fun to revisit this one.

It will be interesting to see what people think of “Game Change,” assuming of course they can get past their own political prejudices while watching it. We have long since made up our minds about the former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin and are either for or against her, but this HBO movie offers a more intimate look at her life which you won’t find on any episode of “Saturday Night Live.” Then again, this movie is not all about her, and it deals more specifically with how people are selected to become national leaders. While you may think it’s the Presidential candidate who makes the final decisions, that is not always the case.

“Game Change” opens with a scene from a “60 Minutes” interview Cooper Anderson did with John McCain’s chief campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson), after the Presidential campaign ended in which he asks Schmidt if he regretted choosing Palin as McCain’s running mate. The look on his face is perplexing as if he wants to say yes, or maybe he is instead looking for a better answer so he can seem more thoughtful. Either way, we don’t find out his answer until the end, but we wonder about this question throughout.

Schmidt is seen as reluctant to join McCain’s Presidential campaign, but his respect for McCain eventually makes him a chief participant. But after McCain wins the Republican nomination, a bigger problem looms; the politicians he is considering for his running mate won’t help him overcome the excitement Americans have for Barack Obama. This leads his political advisers Rick Davis (Peter MacNicol) and Mark Salter (Jamey Sheridan) to suggest Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin who they see as a game changer. Even though Palin has not been Governor for very long, they believe choosing her will enhance McCain’s image as a political maverick. Sure enough, Palin energizes McCain’s campaign in a way few others could with her strong presence and conviction of purpose. But when it comes to world and political affairs, that’s where everyone, including Palin, comes to develop a severe case of anxiety.

Now I know Plain herself has made it clear that she has no interest in watching “Game Change,” but she is actually portrayed here with a lot of empathy. As played by Julianne Moore, Palin is sincere in her efforts in wanting to help McCain win the Presidency and is shown to be a loving mother and wife. Upon being introduced to the world, Palin becomes overwhelmed with the negative press thrown in her direction to where she’s not sure how to deal with it. There are scenes where she watches helplessly as Tina Fey does an impersonation of her on “Saturday Night Live,” and you can’t help but feel for her even if it made for some great comedy.

Speaking of Fey, after watching her do a flawless imitation of Palin, it seemed insane for anyone else to try and play Palin in a movie or skit (did you see Andy Samberg try to do it?). But Moore never stoops to impersonating Palin here, but instead inhabits her so brilliantly. The whole time we watch Moore in “Game Change,” we never see her acting but instead searching for what drives Palin in this political race and her life. I really felt like I was watching Palin here and not Moore as the actress seems to just float away and has let the former Governor of Alaska take over for her.

As the campaign rolls on, we see Palin rebelling against the advisers who tell her what to say, do, and wear. While part of us wants her to really listen to them, you can’t help but admire her for not wanting to put on an act for the American people. Deep down, we really don’t want to see politicians play us for fools as we always feel we can see right through their act. Would you be ever so willing to compromise the things you believe in just to win political office?

I love how Harrelson embodies Schmidt, a man who’s trying his best to handle a delicate situation which threatens to implode each and every day. Schmidt is a guy who thinks he can handle any problem thrown at him but ends up being confronted by one he cannot control. Seeing Harrelson’s eyes stare like daggers at Palin when she goes rogue is an unforgettable image as Schmidt eventually makes clear this is McCain’s show, not hers.

Ed Harris doesn’t look or sound much like McCain, but that doesn’t matter here. What he does accomplish is making McCain seem like an honorable politician trying to run a campaign which is not full of nastiness like the one George W. Bush ran against him in 2000. Seeing him grimace when his supporters start hating on Obama more intensely, calling him an “Arab” or a “communist,” is a painful sight as he realizes this is not the kind of race he ever wanted to be a part of. Harris is an actor who always delivers the goods, and he certainly doesn’t fail us here.

One performance which stands out here is Sarah Paulson’s as McCain adviser, Nicole Wallace. Paulson gives her role a wonderful complexity as her sincere dedication to McCain’s campaign is severely tested by her utter resentment of Palin. As much as Wallace wants to help Palin do her best, you can see in Wallace’s eyes that she is thinking, “is this the best we can come up with?”

“Game Change” was directed by Jay Roach who also directed the superb HBO movie “Recount” which dealt with the craziness of the 2000 Presidential election. As with that one, he attempts to make “Game Change” a balanced look at a politician and campaign we feel we know everything about already. Whether or not he has succeeded here is hard to tell because America is as politically divisive as it has ever been, and many people have been vocal with their criticisms even before they bothered watching this movie.

Roach show us history as if it were unfolding right in front of us, and he lets get us get all caught up in it. We all know the outcome of this election, but we still cringe when Palin makes mistakes like on the Katie Couric interview. Even if she didn’t have our support during the general election, seeing her suffer through a process which proves to be beyond anyone’s control is painful, and we want to see her overcome obstacles most people don’t get to experience. Regardless of what it is we’re watching we always find ourselves rooting for the underdog. As “Game Change” comes to an end, Roach keeps us on the edge of our seats as we wonder what Palin has up her sleeve next as she has long since proven to the world that she is nobody’s puppet.

Is “Game Change” accurate to what actually happened? It depends on who you ask. Both Palin and McCain have described it as inaccurate and based on a false narrative while Schmidt and Wallace have said it tells the truth and captures the spirit of the campaign. When all is said and done though, I’m not sure I care if it is because most movies “based on a true story” are usually not altogether accurate as dramatic considerations need to be taken into account. In the end, all we can do is hope for a compelling motion picture which holds our attention throughout, and “Game Change” certainly held mine.

Palin should at least be happy that she does not come off as the bad guy here. It’s really her political handlers who come off looking bad by throwing a barely tested Governor into a political minefield which is unforgiving and endlessly vicious. Long before the election ends, the handlers see that their thirst for victory has overcome their better judgment as they picked a celebrity more than a true candidate. This brings me to scariest thing “Game Change” reveals though which is a truth that many of us don’t want to see: that these days the news is nothing more than “entertainment,” and that celebrities seem more entrancing to the public than a thoughtful politician.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Terrifier 2’ – Old School Horror at its Bloodiest and Goriest

For those of you who thought “Halloween Ends” did not deliver in the way a horror film should, and I’m still not sure what you all were expecting with that one, “Terrifier 2” definitely delivers. While David Gordon Green and his fellow filmmakers looked to challenge what we have seen in the past, writer and director Damien Leone is more than happy to wallow in genre conventions as he gives us all the scares, blood and gore he possibly can, and then he gives us ten times more of it. But in the process of bringing Art the Clown back for more mayhem of the most vicious kind, Leone gives us a sequel which more than outdoes the original. This used to be a rarity, but the history of movies is always longer than we realize, so maybe we should stop being so surprised when this happens with follow ups.

“Terrifier 2” starts with Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) laying waste to the coroner who was about to perform an autopsy on him, and he becomes the first of many examples of what Art can do to the human body before the heart and brain finally stop functioning. Just as John Doe did to the “sloth” victim in David Fincher’s “Seven,” he leaves a human body rotting in the most unimaginable way, and then we find out the victim still has a pulse. Remember how you as an audience member reacted to that? Wait until you see this.

Art prepares to move to the next phase of his murderous rampage while washing his bloody clothes, because somehow it is possible to wash blood stains off of clothing in a movie like this, and in the process, he comes into contact with a mysterious sinister entity named The Little Pale Girl (Amelie McLain) who comes to more or less follow him on his future murderous travels. There is a laundromat employee present, but he is laid waste to before he even realizes who has more quarters than the average customer.

We jump to a year later and are introduced to Sienna Shaw (Lauren LaVera), a young woman busy working on her Halloween costume which her late dad designed for her, and her younger brother Jonathan (Elliott Fullam) who has long since become fixated on Art the Clown and wants to dress up as him for Halloween. They are still dealing with the aftermath of their father’s death from a brain tumor, and their mother Barbara (Sarah Voigt) is trying to distract herself with her remote job as an insurance agent while being quick to dismiss the concerns of her children for no good reason other than the fact that reality has not been the least bit kind to her or her kids.

Seeing Sienna and Jonathan here and how they were written is one of several reasons why “Terrifier 2” outdoes its predecessor. The characters are far more interesting this time around as we become deeply invested in the crazy plight they get caught up in, and they never come across as your average horror movie stock characters. These two could have been easily typecast as the problem child and town wimp, but Sienna and Jonathan are not written or portrayed as either as this sequel only has so much time, if any, for cliches.

More importantly, both Sienna and Jonathan are stuck in an environment where the adults, including their mother, do not take the time to listen to them or their problems which are quite serious. This is a huge problem in real life as young adults are far more aware of what is going on in the world around them as opposed to the adults who are too busy blunting reality as it has long since become far too much to deal with. Watching these youngsters reminds me of the ending of Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits” in which the parents make the fatal mistake of not listening to their only child when they should have. The same thing applies here, and the consequences are far more brutal.

And unlike the original, this sequel has a much stronger story and narrative thrust. While the first “Terrifier” felt more or less like your average slasher flick, Leone gives himself more to work with this time around. It also benefits from the strong performances of its cast, particularly from Lauren LaVera who makes Sienna into more than the familiar final girl we see in most horror movies. Sienna does go through hell, but it is a hell which involves a lot more pain than other final girls have ever had to endure, and LaVera sells it for all it is worth.

Kudos also goes to Elliott Fullam for playing Jonathan as more than the average high school nerd I often see in movies dealing with teenagers. Yes, Jonathan is fascinated with death and serial killers like many were in their youth for a variety of reasons, but Fullman makes sure he never comes across as a mere type which I really appreciated. Furthermore, Jonathan is featured prominently in the film’s final act for good reason as he helps Sienna save the day in ways no other character like him could have.

And let us not leave out David Howard Thornton who once again gives us one of the scariest psychopaths the world has ever seen with Art the Clown. From start to finish, he gives the gory proceedings an unforgettable malevolence without even having to utter a single word. Art remains the same as he ever was, but his brutality is even more infinite than ever before as he lays waste to those in ways which do not allow for remorse or regret in the slightest.

While “Halloween Ends” looked to defy genre conventions, “Terrifier 2” is defiantly old school horror. Like AC/DC once said, “If you want blood, you’ve got it.” The viscera on display has already had many audience members reacting quite strongly, assuming the reports of fainting and vomiting in theaters are to be believed. Seriously though, the blood and gore we see here is quite the sight for those horror hounds who feel like they are not getting enough of it. There are even scenes where I imagine Tom Savini is watching this and saying, “Hey! I could have come up with that! No, seriously!”

As I write this, “Terrifier 2” has made more than $10 million dollars at the box office, and it only cost $250,000 to make. Part of me worries about Art the Clown becoming mainstream considering what ended up happening to Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger and, to a lesser extent, Jigsaw. Those murderous fiends proved to be ever so frightening, and then they became almost family friendly with each successive sequel we got year after year. As the post credits indicate, Art the Clown is not finished with is mayhem yet. There is bound to be another “Terrifier” in the near future, so let’s hope he doesn’t become too average before we know it.

John Carpenter is right, evil never dies, but its profitability can render it more harmless than it ever intends to.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Casablanca’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

Casablanca” is a film which conjures up an immediate reaction from film fans whenever they hear the title.  It’s right up there with “Citizen Kane” as one of those films which film buffs and historians consider one of the greatest movies ever made.  There are many reasons for this, but the biggest reason is the love story between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  There is also the dialogue and the many quotable lines which come to mind when thinking of this film.  I won’t be repetitive here and list all of them for you, but if you have seen “Casablanca,” you know the lines by heart.  It’s one of those films which means a lot to a great deal of people and for good reason.

Set in 1941, the film introduces the audience to Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), the owner of the nightclub Rick’s Café Américain. He refuses to have drinks with any of the customers and mostly keeps to himself.  The audience can tell he’s cynical, unhappy, and something has happened to him to cause him to lose a big part of himself. He tends to stay neutral on almost every topic.  Even though he’s cynical, he’s still a good guy with a good heart.  His world gets turned upside down when his old flame, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), shows up with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), as he’s seeking protection from German Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) who intends to arrest him.

Victor Laszlo is a fugitive Czech Resistance leader. Rick’s Café serves as a place for all sorts of types, good and bad, because of World War II.  A lot of people there are looking to keep a low profile while others are looking to find someone to arrest.  Rick has some war experience himself, but now he’s focused on his nightclub.  He starts to become very focused on Ilsa when he catches up with her again, and it’s clear there are still strong feelings between the two.  They were in love back in Paris, but when it was time to leave, she just left him hanging with a note that left him with more questions than answers.

Rick has letters of transit, which allow two individuals to get out of Casablanca safe and sound and start over without any consequences. Rick can give the letters to Ilsa, but that also means he will be giving her up as well.  Again, even though he stays neutral on most topics, he can tell the good guys from the bad guys.  He’s not afraid to lend a helping hand to someone in need. However, if he helps her and Victor out, he knows he will never see the love of his life ever again.  That was the beauty of some of the old Hollywood films: the romance felt urgent and very important.  It never felt frivolous or silly.  You can tell that two people really loved each other, and it made a huge impact on their lives.

“Casablanca” is an old-fashioned Hollywood classic in every sense of the word.  You have the black and white picture, the classic romance, and the big stars. You also have great supporting work from actors like Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, and Paul Henreid.  It all feels vital and like it serves a purpose.  It’s old-fashioned Hollywood craftsmanship at its finest.  The story with the war can sometimes bog the film down a little bit, but it’s there to push the love story between the two leads.  They are the heart and soul of this beautiful picture.  Like fine wine, this is the kind of film which gets better with age.  Even if you have seen it multiple times and know how it’s going to end, you still can’t help but get swept up in the story.  “Casablanca” is the kind of movie Hollywood doesn’t make anymore, but I wish they did.

This is Bogart’s best performance in his storied career.  He has a certain vulnerability to him we don’t often get to see on film.  He’s also an everyman in this film, and it’s great to see him connecting with his black piano player, Sam (Dooley Wilson).  He respects people and does the right thing, but it doesn’t feel forced. It’s a completely natural performance. It’s not a big or showy performance, and it doesn’t need to be as we see everything in his face: all of the pain and the agony. Bergman is sweet, tough and very, very smart.  She’s the perfect actress to go toe-to-toe with Bogart in this film.  She looks absolutely stunning and gorgeous on screen.

I was sucked into “Casablanca” from start-to-finish, like I am every single time I watch it.  Even though I know how it’s going to end, I’m still on the edge of my seat when they get to the final scene.  The last line of dialogue is iconic and the perfect note to end this film on as well.  I’m a huge fan of old Hollywood when stars were stars, and they could light up the screen with their presence. It should also be noted that “Casablanca” won Best Picture in 1942 along with Best Director (Michael Curtiz) and Best Screenplay. This is Classic Hollywood at its finest!

* * * * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “Casablanca” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It also comes with a digital copy of the film as well.  It has a running time of 102 minutes and is rated PG for mild violence.

4K Video Info: “Casablanca” looks pretty good on 4K.  The black and white and older films in particular play pretty well with light and darkness on HDR.  It’s not a fantastic upgrade, but I don’t know how much more they could have done to really upgrade a film from the 40’s. It’s better than the Blu-ray, but it’s not a huge improvement.

Audio Info: The audio for the film comes on DTS-HD MA: English 1.0, and Dolby Digital: French and Spanish.  It also comes with subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.  There isn’t a huge upgrade on the audio here, but it still sounds pretty solid.  I don’t really think this is the kind of film which needed a huge audio upgrade.

Special Features:

Commentary by Roger Ebert

Commentary by Rudy Behlmer

Introduction by Lauren Bacall

Warner Night at the Movies

Now, Voyager trailer

Newsreel

“Vaudeville Days” (1942 WB short)

“The Bird Came C.O.D.” (1942 WB cartoon)

“The Squawkin’ Hawk” (1942 WB cartoon)

“The Dover Boys at Pimento University” (1942 WB cartoon)

“Great Performances: Bacall on Bogart” (1988 PBS special)

Michael Curtiz: The Greatest Director You’ve Never Heard Of

Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic

You Must Remember This: A Tribute to “Casablanca” (1992 TEC documentary)

As Time Goes By: The Children Remember

Deleted Scenes

Outtakes

“Who Holds Tomorrow?” (1955 “Casablanca” TV episode)

“Carrotblanca” (1955 WB Cartoon)

Scoring Stage Sessions (audio only)

Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater Radio Broadcast – 4/26/43 (audio only)

Vox Pop Radio Broadcast – 11/19/47 (audio only)

Trailers

I can’t get too upset over the lack of updated special features, as they transported a ton of special features from previous releases. The fact you get two commentary tracks, especially one with Roger Ebert, is quite a treat.  There are A LOT of special features here.  This one is pretty simple for film buffs and physical media collectors out there—if you love classic Hollywood, you owe it to yourself to pick up this film on 4K and watch it in the best possible format.  As mentioned previously, it’s an upgrade over the Blu-Ray, even if it’s not a massive upgrade.  Nonetheless, this is a film you should add to your collection on day one with the slipcover. Personally speaking, I love a good slipcover on my favorite films, and if you want the slipcover, it’s always better to buy it sooner rather than later. This will make the film lover in your life very happy this holiday season!

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.