‘The Lost Boys’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

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

The Lost Boys” falls into the category of a great horror film I have never seen before until now.  With its release on 4K and Halloween a little over a month away, I couldn’t wait to take a bite into this movie (see what I did there?).  Vampires, zombies and werewolves are familiar creatures used in horror films.  The thing which separates the good films from the bad are two things: the characters and the story.  Are we invested in the characters? Is there a compelling story? In the case of “The Lost Boys,” the answer is a resounding yes.  I loved this film, and even though I’m late to the party in watching it, it’s better late than never.

Lucy (Dianne Wiest) and her two sons Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) have relocated to Santa Carla, California following her divorce.  They end up living with her eccentric, oddball father played brilliantly by Barnard Hughes, and he doesn’t want anyone to touch his root beer or his Oreos.  He also spends a lot of time dabbling in taxidermy and often gives Sam some unwanted presents.  Sam is also flanked by his loyal dog Nanook, an Alaskan Malamute. Sam is doing his best to adjust to this beach town by catching up on some comic books. He ends up getting to know the Frog Brothers, Edgar and Allan, played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander, who know a lot about vampires and comic books.  Their performances are comedy gold in this film, and they are their own little “Strangers Things” group here.

Michael ends up falling for a young lady named Star, played by Jami Gertz. She hangs around a biker gang led by David (Kiefer Sutherland).  Something is clearly unusual and odd about them, but Michael is hoping that if they accept him, he can get to know Star.  Lucy ends up getting a job at the local video store which is owned by Max (Edward Herrmann).  Max is a dorky putz, but he means well and seems genuinely interested in getting to know Lucy.  This in spite of the fact that their dates usually always end up in disaster because Sam is convinced something is off with Michael.  Sam wants to protect Michael because that’s his brother, but he’s not entirely happy with how he’s acting lately.  Michael is sleeping all the time and coming home very late now that he has his new friends.

There is plenty to enjoy with “The Lost Boys,” but the key ingredient is the cast.  The actors really sell this material with just the right amount of humor and terror.  Director Joel Schumacher also knows how to get the most out of every single scene.  This film is 97 minutes and frankly, it is the perfect running time for a film like this. We get to know the characters, their dilemma unfolds, and it ends with a bang, literally and figuratively speaking. I really enjoyed the fact the filmmakers went with an R rating.  They build up to the violence, so it really means something when the bodies start to explode and heads begin flying off.  The special effects and make-up are top notch.  When you add in the fact this is a 4K release, everything is enhanced to an even greater degree.

The film also doesn’t lean in too heavily with the vampire gimmick.  Yes, there are characters who are vampires and there are rules to follow, but at the end of the day, it’s a film about a mother and her two sons trying to survive.  Dianne Wiest, a favorite actress of mine, is perfect as the concerned but confused mother.  The late Corey Haim is also top-notch here.  I know I’m singling out their work, but there is not a bad performance in this film.  It also helps that the atmosphere goes back and forth between day and night.  It’s an atmospheric and intense flick which hits all of the right notes you would want in a film like this. I went into it not knowing what to expect, and I ended up having a big smile on my face when the credits were rolling at the end.

“The Lost Boys” is an 80’s gem which deserves to be seen on 4K.  It’s one of those rare examples of a film where everything falls into place: the cast, the acting, the director, the writing, the blood and guts and the twists and turns.  The comedy is done at just the right moments without being too hokey or phony. The action and violence are really turned up a notch without being too much or overdone. This is the perfect Halloween movie to pick up in time to watch for the holiday.  Trust me when I tell you this: You won’t regret it, and you will love it. If you have already seen it, you will love it even more with the 4K upgrade.

* * * * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-Ray: “The Lost Boys” is being released on a two-disc 4K and Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It also comes with a digital copy of the film as well.  It is rated R and has a running time of 97 minutes.

Video Info: The 4K of this film comes with stunning High Dynamic Range (HDR), and it looks incredible.  As I mentioned earlier in my review, the outdoor shots of California are absolutely stunning. When the film is darker and more brooding, it switches to that tone with its color palette.  This is a terrific-looking 4K, and I enjoyed taking it all in for the first time.

Audio Info:  I was hoping they would have a Dolby Atmos track as the audio is good but it’s a little inconsistent at times. It comes on a DTS-HD MA: English 5.1 audio track along with Dolby Digital audio tracks in French and Spanish. Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish.

Special Features:

4K UHD Disc

·           Commentary by Joel Schumacher

Blu-ray Disc

·           Commentary by Joel Schumacher

·           “The Lost Boys: A Retrospective”: 24:00

·           “Inside the Vampire’s Cave: A Director’s Vision”: 6:58

·           “Inside the Vampire’s Cave: Comedy vs. Horror”: 4:44

·           “Inside the Vampire’s Cave: Fresh Blood-A New Look at Vampires”: 4:23

·           “Inside the Vampire’s Cave: The Lost Boys Sequel?”: 2:25

·           “Vamping Out: The Undead Creations of Greg Cannon”: 14:02

·           “The Return of Sam and the Frog Brothers: Haimster & Feldog-The Story of the 2 Coreys”: 4:30

·           “The Return of Sam and the Frog Brothers: Multi-Angle Video Commentary by Corey Haim, Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander”: 18:23

·           The Lost Scenes: 15:16

·           Lou Gramm “Lost in the Shadows” Music Video: 4:35

·           Trailer: 1:26

Normally, I would complain about the fact they don’t have any new special features for the 4K here, but considering this was my first time watching the film, all of the special features were new to me.  There is a commentary track with the director and plenty of lengthy special features discussing the film.  Based on the quality of the movie, the 4K upgrade, and the special features, this one comes highly recommended as a day-one purchase.  If you are a horror enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to watch this film at the highest quality available.  As far as the film itself, there is so much to like about it. Even though the film is a vampire film, it doesn’t feel like a vampire film.  I felt the vibes of It and Stranger Things mixed with a family drama.  The acting is really, really good, and it’s a big reason why it’s such an effective film.  The kills featured in the film are also really grisly and blood-soaked.  I loved this movie! I’m really enjoying the fact that Warner Brothers Home Entertainment is going into their vault and releasing a lot of their older titles on 4K.  This is a top-of-the-line upgrade with bright colors and a vivid picture. If you are like me and haven’t seen this movie, you owe it to yourself to add it to your collection.

**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.

‘Hot Fuzz’ – A Ralph Report Video Vault Selection

HERE COME THE FUZZ!!!

Hot Fuzz” comes from the makers of “Shaun of The Dead,” one of the funniest comedies of the 2000’s. The great thing about that one is how it featured very well drawn our characters who we come to care about, and it makes the laughs all the heartier. Most spoofs and satires suck these days because they try too hard to make you laugh instead of playing it straight like the actors did in “Airplane!” Director Edgar Wright brings it back to this as it gives you characters to follow from start to finish while you laugh your ass off throughout.

“Hot Fuzz” proves to be every bit as hilarious as “Shaun of the Dead” as it mines genres for an infinite amount of glee while giving us characters to care about. This film’s main target is the Jerry Bruckheimer action movies of the 1990’s as well as others like “Point Break,” Silent Rage” and “Bad Boys II.” These films were also the target of the “South Park” creators when they made “Team America: World Police.” But while “Team America” held nothing back in its gleeful viciousness, this one is more well-intentioned and even funnier in the process.

“Hot Fuzz” stars Simon Pegg as Nicholas Angel, the best police officer in the London Metropolitan police force. Nicholas holds the record for the most arrests of any officer, but his superiors have decided to transfer him to the countryside. The problem is he is so good at his job that he has inadvertently made his fellow officers look bad in the process. This is bad for the department’s image, so they end up transferring him to Sanford, a town far off in the countryside where nothing much happens.

Sanford is a rather lax town where the police there easily look over such matters as underage drinking and shoplifting. Regardless of what they guilty have done, they don’t spend more than an hour in jail. Nicholas gets off to a quick start in a hilarious scene where he busts just about everyone in a bar because they are underage. But while he does the right thing, he also drives out the pub’s business. Whenever Nicholas does something right, being the stiff by-the-book officer he is, he ends up getting punished by doing the most menial duties an officer can do.

Along the way, he ends up getting partnered with an overweight and action film buff named Police Constable Danny Butterman. Played by Nick Frost, you could say he is playing the same character he portrayed “Shaun of The Dead,” but he is still hilarious here so, seriously, who cares? Danny romanticizes about living the life of action he sees in “Point Break” and “Bad Boys II.” When he meets Nicholas Angel, he believes Nicholas has come from a city where he has seen a similar kind of action. Nicholas, however, comes from a world where police work is nowhere as exciting and bombastic as it is in motion pictures. It’s serious work with very little action. That is, until several “accidents” end up occurring in Sanford which its residents are quick to easily dismiss. But Nicholas is too smart to pass these events off as accidents when it involves the value of the land and the fact that the evidence does not match up.

“Hot Fuzz” is an enjoyable movie throughout, and it never drags. Even the usher who introduced the movie to us when I saw it at Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood said it was the best thing playing there at that point. The usher was absolutely right as Wright and his cast and fellow filmmakers and actors prove to be more than up to giving us an endless barrage of laughs we can never get enough of.

What drives me nuts about movie comedies these days is you can see the jokes coming from a mile away, and this makes me constantly roll my eyes in severe frustration. Wright and company, on the other hand, give us unforgettably hilarious moments which sneak up on you when you least expect it. There are many movie references here which might have gone over the head of many in the audience. How well you can pick them out depends how big of a movie buff you are.

The most enjoyable part of “Hot Fuzz” for me was towards the end when everything turns into the bombastic and explosion filled action spectacular which is your typical Bruckheimer film. Everything blowing up around the characters, all the bad guys shooting guns and many bullets expended, but they somehow keep missing the good guys even when they have a scope on their rifles. Our heroes flying in the air while shooting their guns off like they somehow jumped into a John Woo movie. Seeing a lot of this was a huge kick and had me laughing endlessly. Completely over the top, and the movie does not take itself as seriously as Nicholas Angel takes himself as a police officer.

Of course, there are many other great performances here. Oscar winning actor Jim Broadbent plays Inspector Frank Butterman. He plays it with the kind of gleeful ease which has been on display in the many roles he has played before and after this one, let alone his scene-stealing turn in “Moulin Rouge” (“Like a Virgin” will never be the same).

One guy who is truly great here, and I was so glad to see him back in action after what feels like a long time, is Timothy Dalton. He of course is the short-lived successor to Roger Moore as James Bond, and one of the more underrated 007 actors if you ask me. He has one of the most comedically driest of roles here as Simon Skinner, whose guilt Nicholas can spot from miles and miles away while all the other police officers in town walk around with blinders over their eyes. The smirk on Dalton’s face is an image which stayed with me long after this film ended, and it makes me believe he would have given us a more well-rounded Bond in future installments had Pierce Brosnan not replaced him so soon.

As Nicholas Angel, Pegg plays a character who is very much the opposite of the one he played in “Shaun of The Dead.” He is a straight arrow here, one of the men who can’t help but have a huge stick up his rigid ass. For a while, it looked like he would be playing the same character over and over again after I saw him in “Mission Impossible III,” but he proved to us here that there is much more to him than what we had seen up to this point.

Steve Ashton of “The Ralph Report” was right, this film is full of a plethora of talented character actors. There’s Paddy Considine who does one of the best double takes here that I have ever seen any actor give. I first became consciously aware of Olivia Coleman when I watched her in “The Favourite,” but her appearance here as the sole female police officer in Sanford is probably the first thing I ever saw her in. and she is ever so delightful here. Then there is Martin Freeman who can play just about any character he wants to whether it is in this film or something like “Love Actually.” And as for Bill Nighy… Well, you can never go wrong with an actor like him.

Whether or not you think “Hot Fuzz” is better or worse than “Shaun of the Dead” or even “The World’s End” is irrelevant because it is a total blast from start to finish. The “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy has given us nothing but endless entertainment, and “Hot Fuzz” is merely one of several examples. Just remember this, when a character tells us “This shit just got real,” it has far more meaning here than it ever did in “Bad Boys II.”

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Elvis’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

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

Elvis Presley is, without question, one of the biggest names in music history. As a matter of fact, many think he’s the gold standard. Nearly four decades after his death, he is still worshiped and celebrated by legions of fans.  However, there has never been a true Elvis biopic worth its salt. For a man with such a historic legacy, it seemed rather unusual that a true Elvis biopic with a big studio behind it had never been released.  This changed in 2022 with the release of “Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann.  If there ever was a director to bring the life of Elvis to the big screen, it was certainly Luhrmann.  He’s known for his big productions and big budgets.  There is a reason why he hasn’t directed many films. He puts everything into his work, and he’s involved in many aspects of the filmmaking process as a whole.

I remember hearing about this film back in 2020 as Tom Hanks contracted Covid-19 while filming his part as Colonel Tom Parker. When it was finally able to hit the big screen in the summer of 2022, I noticed it was getting people back in the theaters once again.  Now, it has not grossed anywhere near the level of “Top Gun: Maverick,” but it’s still playing in certain theaters to this day even though it was released in June. I credit this to the power of Elvis as he always had a way of bringing people together.  This is certainly the case with this big screen blockbuster.

While the film is called “Elvis,” it could have easily been called Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker, as it focuses on the relationship between the two.  Colonel Tom Parker is played by Tom Hanks.  If I had to go out on a limb here, I’d say they wanted to cast a big-name actor in Hanks because not many people were familiar with Austin Butler. Prior to seeing the film, I had never heard of Butler myself.  While I understand the casting of Hanks and the reason behind Parker being such a pivotal character in the film, his performance is extremely cartoonish and silly.  Colonel Tom Parker was a character indeed, but this performance feels like Hanks in a fat suit with a forced accent.

ELVIS Copyright: © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Caption: (L-r) TOM HANKS as Colonel Tom Parker and AUSTIN BUTLER as Elvis in Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “ELVIS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

This film focuses on how Elvis was discovered by Colonel Tom Parker who took him under his wing as he saw something special in the young man.  Elvis, being loyal to his family, especially his mother, would do anything to help them out financially, so he did whatever Colonel Tom Parker told him to do even if his mother saw right through him. Elvis’ father was a bit of a simpleton and really wasn’t looking out for his son’s best interests as he had problems of his own. Colonel Parker, on the other hand, was a carney who knew how to manipulate and con Elvis into doing anything he wanted him to do.  Elvis was loyal to a fault. As a matter of fact, they had a contract where Colonel Parker would get half of Elvis’ earnings, which is unheard of in today’s entertainment industry.

Elvis was clearly influenced by African American music, and the film is wise to show that here. While many African-Americans say Elvis stole their music, others say he took from their music while adding his own touches to it. There are many opinions on the subject, but the film does give African-American artists their due and shows he was impacted and moved by their music while growing up in the South.  It’s a tricky subject but the film gives African-American artists their due and acknowledges how Elvis was in awe of what they were doing at the time and how heavily inspired he was by the musical scene on Beale Street in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Elvis Presley is also seen as dangerous because of his sexuality and dance moves.  It’s funny to think of this now because of what other artists are doing today and how far they push the envelope with their sexuality. You have to remember that when Elvis was around, it was during the late 1950’s and early 60’s, so audiences were not yet exposed to this type of artist. Some feared his music and dancing would promote sexuality amongst the younger crowd. Luhrmann also touches on Elvis’ film career, his relationship with Priscila Presley, and his time in the Army.  Luhrmann and his fellow collaborators cover a lot of ground in 159 minutes, but the film doesn’t feel too long in the tooth as there is always something happening on screen.

Let’s start with the pros of the film: Austin Butler is now an official movie star. It would not surprise me if he is nominated and even wins an Oscar for Best Actor. The Academy loves musical biopics, and this is the type of performance which seems right up their alley. It’s definitely one of the best performances of 2022, but there are other films yet to be released in this calendar year. It wouldn’t get my Oscar vote if I had one, but I certainly think it’s a phenomenal performance. Butler looks and sounds just like Elvis.

The film also takes the time to dive into the effect the deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. had on Elvis as he wanted to make music about something instead of always playing it safe due to Colonel Tom Parker’s influence.  The soundtrack is also top-notch and it’s incredibly moving at times. It’s flashy, fun, in-your-face, and a real crowd-pleaser.

Now let’s talk about the cons: Tom Hanks.  What in the world is this performance? I read a comment from Scott Mendelson from Forbes who said it seemed like Hanks was trying to win an Oscar and a Razzie at the same time. That is the perfect way to describe his performance.  The film also follows the usual beats of a biopic: the young kid doesn’t believe in himself, has success, hits roadblocks, and it ends on a high-note.  The only difference here is the Elvis story doesn’t end on a high note as we all know. 

The film also seems a little too uncomfortable with criticizing Elvis and a lot of the things he did in his life and career. He was far from perfect, but the film seems content to blame it all on Parker instead of looking at Elvis for some of the blame. When all is said and done, he’s far from innocent.

I enjoyed “Elvis,” but I didn’t love it.  Luhrmann doesn’t show the ugly side of Elvis, and there was an ugly side to him.  It’s not a very deep or relatable film either.  The story could have been a little more meaningful and thought-provoking but, at times, it seems to fall in love with its star much too often.  It’s a good movie, but it’s not a great one.  I recommend you check it out, as you won’t be disappointed, but I would have liked a little more meat on the bone here.

* * * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “Elvis” is being released on a two-disc 4K and Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment which also comes with the digital copy of the film. It is rated PG-13 for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material, and smoking.  It has a running time of 159 minutes.

Video Info: “Elvis” comes to 4K on eye-opening HDR 10+ along with Dolby Vision.  It’s a stunning movie filled with life and color, and it truly took my breath away watching it in 4K.  With some films, you don’t really notice the difference with a 4K release.  Bu this is a film where, if you have a 4K player and TV, it is the way to go without hesitation.  It came to life right before my eyes.

Audio Info: The Dolby Atmos track brings all of the great music right into your living room.  This is a great disc, and they really went all out for this release.  Subtitles are also included in English, Spanish and French.

Special Features:

Bigger Than Life: The Making of ELVIS

Rock ‘N Roll Royalty: The Music & Artists Behind ELVIS

Fit for a King; The Style of ELVIS

Viva Australia: Recreating Iconic Locations for ELVIS

“Trouble” Lyric Video

Should You Buy It?

If you are a hardcore Elvis Presley fan, and I know plenty of them in my own life, you have already made up your mind and are buying this on its release date.  If you are not an Elvis fan, I still think this is a solid and well-made flick.  Would I buy the film if I were a casual Elvis fan?  I would because of the 4K release Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has put out along with the great special features on its making.  However, I’d probably wait for the price to drop a little bit as the 4K version is going for $29.99.  This film was made for 4K. 

Elvis Presley fans, this is probably the best Elvis movie which will ever be made, and it makes me happy to see people I care about enjoying it.  From talking to the diehard Elvis fans in my life, they are in love with this film and have seen it multiple times in theaters and started watching it right away when it debuted on HBO Max. It definitely resonated with a ton of people. I liked “Elvis” and recommend it, but I wish it had a bit more of an edge.  It played it safe too often for my liking. Still, this is one of the best 4K releases of the year so far and a great use of the technology.

**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.

‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans’ – No, it is Not a Remake

Alright, let’s get this out of the way; Werner Herzog’s “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” is not a remake of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film “Bad Lieutenant” which, as a friend of mine from high school pointed out “made ‘Taxi Driver’ look like ‘Alice in Wonderland!’” The only thing these films have in common is they have a main character who is a police lieutenant with serious gambling and drug addictions which suck them deep into a realm of immorality. Other than that, they are completely different cinematic works which somehow ended up with the same darn title. Comparing the two films, while in some respects inevitable, does neither any favors. Then again, they do have the same producer, Edward R. Pressman.

I do have to confess this is the very first feature length movie from Werner Herzog I have ever watched. Yes, I did see “Grizzly Man” and “Encounters at the End of the World,” but they were documentaries (brilliant ones might I add). Being the big movie buff that I am, you will likely find this shameful on my part, and it probably is, but you won’t have to worry about me comparing “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” to all his other works. From what I have heard, Herzog’s films deal with human psyches in a most extreme and uncontrollable state, so this film must be right up his alley in terms of themes he has dealt with throughout his career. It also allows Nicolas Cage a role where he can (and does he ever) go completely crazy in the only way Cage can.

Cage stars as Terence McDonagh a sergeant with the New Orleans police force. We watch as Terence enters the severely damaged police department with his partner Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) as they try to salvage some stuff which was not laid waste in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They end up coming across a prisoner still in his cell who should have been evacuated, and he is running out of time as the water level rises. Bothe Terence and Stevie seem perfectly willing to let this unlucky schmuck drown, but when Terence sees him start to pray, he quickly jumps into the contaminated water to rescue him. While he succeeds and is later made a lieutenant as a result, he also ends up with a serious back injury which requires medication he is told to take indefinitely, probably for the rest of his life.

Terence starts off being prescribed Vicodin by his less than hopeful doctor, something I had when I got my wisdom teeth taken out, and which my mother became terrified I would get addicted to. It’s all downhill from there as Terence quickly moves from Vicodin to cocaine, and then to crack or whatever else he can smuggle out of the evidence room. And just when you think he could not sink any deeper, he does. Eventually, he gets involved with local drug dealer Big Fate played by rapper Xzibit, looking livelier here than he did in “The X-Files: I Want to Believe.” By collaborating with Big Fate, Terence hopes to pay off his mounting debts. Throughout this twisted voyage, he is also met by a pair of iguanas who keep following him. Of course, no one can see them except him.

As dark and immoral as the plot and the characters are, I actually found this film to be shockingly funny. Seriously, “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” has moments which are laugh out loud funny, and I couldn’t believe how much I was enjoying myself while watching this insanity. What’s on display here gives “Observe and Report,” the blackest of black comedies, a big run for its money in the perversely funny department. The audience I saw it with were also laughing as loud as I was as the utter madness constantly left us in complete hysterics.

But the big delight I got was watching Cage act in a totally unhinged state to where you would think this was a sequel to “Wild at Heart.” This collaboration with Herzog brought Cage back to the kind of role he does best. In films like “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Face/Off” among others, he proves to be a master of pulling off over the top performances which are infused with endless creativity. Herzog simply sets him loose to play a character whose mind is in a constant state of implosion which exposes a soul most corrupted.

One key scene comes when Terence pulls over a young couple driving home from a club. Cage plays the scene straight as he gets from these two what he wants and knows they have on them, and then he switches gears when the lady gives him a hit from what she is smoking. In the process, he begins to make out with her while her stunned schmuck of a boyfriend is forced to watch. This scene is as horrifying as it is hilarious, and only an actor as risk taking and reckless as Cage could possibly sell us on it.

So, what’s Herzog’s “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” really about? I’m not entirely sure. It could be he is forcing us to look at a man whose soul is as toxic as the water that submerged much of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and of how this man is forced to descend into hell in order to find of redemption. But considering how over the top this film is in portraying Terence’s increasingly manic state, you have to wonder if Herzog is more interested in the journey Terence is taking as opposed to where he ends up. It didn’t matter much to me in the end because I was enjoying myself too much, and that’s even if it was for all the wrong reasons.

Cage is also surrounded by a good cast of actors who do memorable work here as well. It was nice to see Brad Dourif here, having seen and liked him in Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II,” as Terence’s bookie whom he is heavily in debt to. Kilmer is very good as Terence’s corrupt partner, and that’s even if he has to stand in the shadow of Cage throughout. I have to say I was very surprised to Jennifer Coolidge cast as Terence’s stepmother. Having seen her in so many comedic roles, it was interesting to see her to take on something different and more dramatic. Vondie Curtis-Hall appears as well playing Terence’s superior, Captain James Brasser, and Tom Bower rounds out the cast by portraying his alcoholic father, Pat McDonagh.

Eva Mendes is also on board here as Terence’s prostitute girlfriend, Frankie. She previously co-starred with Nicholas Cage in “Ghost Rider,” and she plays the same kind of role she played in “We Own the Night;” a party girl whose boyfriend supplies her with all the fun and drugs she ever needs. On the basis of her performance here, I hoped she would get stronger roles in the future as she makes Frankie’s transition from being selfish to getting saved from herself very believable. She has since gone on to give excellent performances in “The Other Guys,” “Holy Motors” and “The Place Among the Pines.”

Herzog gives this film a rough and dirty look which all but suits the characters and the sleaze they submerge themselves in. The whole shebang could have been ruined if he shot the whole thing in high definition, for it would have made the visuals look much too tidy. This is not a movie you want to look all smoothed over and polished at the surface. It requires an atmosphere thick with humidity and with slime dripping off of everything as it eats away what is left. For all I know right now, Herzog is not a director who is even remotely interested in sweetening up story and characters in order to make his movies more available to a mainstream audience.

“Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” deserves to be taken on its own terms and not compared to Ferrara’s film in which Harvey Keitel went for the “Full Monty.” Its story is not always easy to follow, but it is endlessly entertaining for those in the mood for something bizarrely funny and far from normal. It also allowed Cage a temporary haven from the junk he has been forced to star in, and he gets free rein to go wild and crazy like no one else can. Thus, Cage reminds of us here that he is still more than capable of giving a brilliantly entertaining performance, not that we should have doubted that in the first place. While his career looks to having him churn out one straight to video movie after another, there is always those gems like this, “Joe” and “Pig” to remind us of what a tremendous talent he is.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a ton of Herzog films to catch up on. I am behind enough on his work as it is.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Public Enemies’ – Michael Mann and Johnny Depp Take on John Dillinger

“The reason you caught me, Will, is we’re just alike! You want the scent? Smell yourself!”

-Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox) speaking to Will Graham (William Peterson) from a scene in Michael Mann’s “Manhunter.”

After all these years, Michael Mann still has a strong fascination with criminal masterminds and those who spend their careers chasing them down. Film after film, he has spent his time delving into how the “good guys” and “bad guys” feed off of one another, and if they could not exist without one another. “Public Enemies” reminded me a lot of “Heat” in that respect, and it shares a lot of similarities as it looks at the famous John Dillinger, played here by Johnny Depp, and at the man sent to catch him, Melvin Purvis. It’s not as great a film as “Heat” was, but it is still a masterful piece of filmmaking and the kind we have come to expect from director Michael Mann.

“Public Enemies” starts with Dillinger and his friends breaking out of a maximum-security prison, something which seemed easy to do back in 1933. It turns out Dillinger is actually quite the celebrity and can find safe havens in one town or another. To many he is seen as a hero, and to others he is nothing more than a criminal. But as Dillinger continues to rob more banks, the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover (played by Billy Crudup) become increasingly persistent in bringing him to justice. In the process, Hoover turns to Melvin Purvis (played by Christian Bale) who subsequently leads a manhunt to take down Dillinger, and in the process changes from the person he thought he could be to the one he is chasing after.

One thing which has not changed about Mann’s movies is he still knows how to stage one hell of a gunfight. Back in 1995, he gave us one of the greatest in Downtown Los Angeles with “Heat,” and he has lived in the shadow of that brilliantly staged moment ever since. Sure, he has choreographed gun battles every bit as effectively brutal like in “Collateral” and his film version of “Miami Vice.” In his films, you don’t just watch guns go off, you feel them going off. When a bullet hits a body, characters don’t just fall down like in an old western. Their bodies are forever shattered, and the wounds they carry last long after the end credits have finished. There are a lot of strong action scenes like this throughout “Public Enemies,” and each one is equally hair raising. While “Heat” may remain his masterpiece, his other works do not pale in comparison necessarily.

Having Johnny Depp cast as Dillinger must have seemed like a no brainer. They appear to share some similar tastes minus the heavy gunfire, given Depp’s previous reputation as a “wild boy:”

“I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars… and you. What else you need to know?”

-Johnny Depp as John Dillinger from “Public Enemies”

Depp remains one of the best actors of his generation, and he has constantly challenged himself to where this particular role is no exception. Dillinger was a criminal celebrity, perhaps one of the first, and Depp effortlessly shows you how Dillinger made this seem possible. With his eyes, Depp can still seduce the most knowledgeable and naïve of women without even having to try too hard. The actor also clearly brings out the joy Dillinger gets out of life, and he also gets at the depth of pain he experiences as those closest to him leave him, cut him loose, or get killed.

As Melvin Purvis, Christian Bale delves into many of the same situations which haunted Bruce Wayne/Batman in “The Dark Knight.” Melvin starts off as a man who is dedicated to the law and follows the rules and regulations to the letter. But after some serious setbacks, Melvin finds he has to use different methods in order to get his man. These methods include acts and people which and who work outside of the law. In the process, he comes to see what he has to become in order to capture Dillinger. But unlike Bruce, Melvin may not be able to live with himself when this is all through. Bale pulls off a really solid accent while playing Melvin, and he has a much more nuanced character to play here than he did in movies like “Terminator Salvation.”

But the one performance I enjoyed most in “Public Enemies” was Marion Cotillard’s who plays Dillinger’s girlfriend, Billie Frechette. Cotillard won the Best Actress Oscar for giving one of the greatest performances of all time in cinematic history in “La Vie En Rose.” She shares great chemistry with Depp throughout, and she is delightful to watch as Billie is ever so quickly drawn into Dillinger’s dangerous world. Billie does sense the trouble which lies ahead, but everything happening is too exciting for her to pass up. Showing both fear and excitement in a film scene without words is easier said than done, and she pulls it off like it’s no big deal.

If there’s anything which takes away from “Public Enemies,” it is that it doesn’t delve as deeply into the characters’ lives as I had hoped it would. If anything, this film would have benefited more from a back story, especially for Dillinger as to why and how he became a bank robber. It was also said that Dillinger was a hero because the banks he robbed ended up freeing things up for those who were economically challenged because of the Great Depression. I would have liked to have seen more of this because Mann may have thought this was clear from the way regular people treat Dillinger, but it doesn’t feel like they have a good enough reason to. Had there been a little more depth to these characters, this could have been as great a movie “Heat.”

Still, “Public Enemies” is fine filmmaking and continues Mann’s theme of looking at how the line between cops and criminals is often blurred and how both are actually one and the same. You could almost call this “Heat” as a period piece. Mann makes you wonder if a criminal can ever find and hang onto a love despite their law-breaking nature, and if the cop can ever lead a normal life outside their career of going after the crook. From William Petersen trying to think like the killer in “Manhunter” to James Caan trying to leave a life outside of crime in “Thief,” it’s a thin line indeed. Perhaps Mann keeps pursuing this theme in hopes that there will be a tomorrow for characters like these regardless of their opposing natures. Maybe he will find the answer in a future motion picture, and hopefully we will not have to wait too much longer for such a cinematic work.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Dog Soldiers’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

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

It’s amazing what a 4K upgrade can do for a film like “Dog Soldiers.” I remember renting the DVD many years ago, and the quality was so poor that it was hard to even watch the film, let alone enjoy it.  Now, with this 4K Collector’s Edition from the fine folks at Scream Factory, the film is much improved from an image standpoint.  This one comes with a 4K scan of the original negative, and it has never looked better. Keep in mind, it is a low-budget film, so some of the grain and messiness of the film is included here, but that is intentional and adds to the guerrilla filmmaking style of director Neil Marshall. It’s supposed to look that way.  This was Marshall’s debut film, and he came onto the scene with a bang.

After an unsuspecting couple is killed by a werewolf, we are introduced to Cooper (Kevin McKidd) who is being recruited to join a special forces unit.  However, they don’t think he has the killer instinct necessary to do the job because he won’t kill a dog.  This was a direct order from Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham) who was in charge of picking his team.  Cooper thought the process of killing a dog was unnecessary and didn’t understand the reasoning behind it.

Four weeks later, Cooper is part of a training exercise with six other men in the Scottish Highlands when he happens to discover that Captain Ryan is in bad shape.  Ryan’s team was attacked by something they don’t quite understand.  They receive shelter thanks to a zoologist named Megan (Emma Cleasby) who takes the remaining men along with Captain Ryan to a house where they will figure out what to do in order to survive.

At first, this group of men can’t believe what they have seen.  They don’t know what has attacked them, and they have a hard time believing it was werewolves.  Once Megan explains the situation with the house and the werewolves, they learn they must survive by sunrise while fending off the werewolves that are coming for them.  The film does a great job of letting us get to know Cooper, Megan, Ryan, Sergeant Wells (Sean Pertwee), Joe, and Terry. We are right there with them, and we know all of their quirks and personality traits, such as the fact Joe is really upset about having to miss a football game between England and Germany. We are right there with them in the house, fighting off the werewolves.

At this point, the soldiers are wondering what their best course of action is. Do they wait until sunrise, or do they fight back against the werewolves? There isn’t any help for miles, and it’s not exactly safe to leave the house because the werewolves are ready and willing to maim and kill. They wait for this time of the month where it’s a full moon, and they usually make quick work of whoever gets in their way.

A huge positive about “Dog Soldiers” is that it has a sense of humor about the werewolves. Make no mistake about it, the filmmakers take these animals seriously, but they also realize the absurdity of the situation without making it too campy. It’s a fine line, and the film nails it perfectly by trying to ease the tension with humor while also not mocking the seriousness of the action.

As mentioned earlier, this film had a low budget, but that is part of “Dog Soldier’s” charm.  There is something truly magical and exciting about watching a film make up for its lack of budget with creativity.  The werewolves are very twisted and creepy, and they come out at just the right time.  The fact the majority of the action is set in this house also adds to the terror and tension.  The third act is also filled with a ton of twists and turns where you don’t really know who is going to survive, who can be trusted, and what their individual motives are as things come to a close.  The film is also not afraid to splatter blood all over the screen.  It’s a hugely entertaining ride.

“Dog Soldiers” starts off a little slow at the beginning, but once they enter the house, there is not a wasted scene or moment throughout.  It’s remarkable and has just the right amount of anxiety, humor, heart, and gore. It’s also not afraid to go balls-to-the-wall. With many first-time directors, they don’t know if they will get a chance to make another feature, so they throw a lot into their first project.  All the ingredients work here to make a magnificent horror film where the action is timed just perfectly. We get to spend time with all of these characters, so we care about what happens to them. 

The more I thought about “Dog Soldiers,” the more I loved it.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

4K/Blu-Ray Info: This is the 20th anniversary of “Dog Soldiers,” and it’s released on a two-disc 4K and Blu-ray combo pack from Shout Factory/Scream Factory. The film has a running time of 105 minutes and is rated R for strong violence, gore and language. There are two discs here: one featuring the 4K version, and the other one featuring the Blu-ray.

Audio Info/Video Info: The 4K comes with a 2160p Ultra High-Definition HDR Widescreen (1.85:1) transfer while the Blu-Ray comes on 1080p High-Definition Widescreen (1.85:1). The audio for both films comes on the following formats: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Stereo 2.0.  I found the video quality to be much improved from the original DVD I watched many moons ago. The film is grainy and dirty at times, as mentioned earlier, but it’s also clear and bright during the rare outdoor scenes. When I say it’s grainy and dirty, I am acknowledging that it adds to the look of the film and that is a positive, not a negative. The high dynamic range is also a huge bonus with any 4K release. You can also watch the 4K of the film in Dolby Vision as well.

Special Features:

DISC ONE (4K UHD):

NEW 4K Restoration from The Original Camera Negative by Second Sight Films – Approved by Director Neil Marshall and Director of Photography Sam McCurdy-Presented in Dolby Vision

NEW Audio Commentary by Writer and Associate Professor of Film Alison Peirse

Audio Commentary with Director Neil Marshall

Audio Commentary with producers David Allen and Brian O’Toole

NEW 4K Restoration from The Original Camera Negative by Second Sight Films Approved by Director Neil Marshall and Director of Photography Sam McCurdy

NEW Audio DISC TWO (BLU-RAY):

Commentary by writer and associate professor of Film Alison Peirse

NEW Werewolves, Crawlers, Cannibals and More – an interview with Neil Marshall

NEW A History of Lycanthropy – author Gavin Baddeley on Werewolf Cinema

NEW Werewolves, Folklore and Cinema – a video essay by author Mikel J. Koven

Audio Commentary with Director Neil Marshall

Audio Commentary with producers David Allen and Brian O’Toole

Werewolves vs. Soldiers – a look at the making of “Dog Soldiers” featuring Interviews with Director Neil Marshall, Producers Christopher Figg and Keith Bell, Actors Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Leslie Simpson and Emma Cleasby, Special Effects Artist Bob Keen and more!

A Cottage in the Woods – a look at the production design with production designer Simon Bowles

UK Theatrical Trailers and U.S. Home Video Promo

“Combat” – A short film by Neil Marshall

Two Still Galleries – Photos from the film and rare photos from Production Designer Simon Bowles and Special Effects Artist Dave Bonneywell’s archives

Should You Buy It?

Considering there are over three hours of special features, both new and old, and the quality of the film, I cannot recommend this special edition of “Dog Soldiers” enough.  One thing I will say with a great deal of confidence:  Please watch the HDR version over the Dolby Vision version. This is a dark film to begin with, and the Dolby Vision version is too dark at times to fully enjoy the experience.  Dolby Vision is great for certain films, but I don’t think it fully works here. The HDR version is miles ahead in terms of clarity, mood, and picture quality.

As far as the film itself, with the 4K upgrade, I felt like I was watching a whole new movie.  “Dog Soldiers” is in-your-face and unrelenting.  I truly had a blast with it.  I look forward to September and October with some of the releases from Scream Factory, as there are some really cool horror titles coming out. As of right now, if you are a hardcore collector of boutique labels like myself, this one is going to be right up your alley. If you pick up this film, you won’t regret it!

The ‘Total Recall’ Remake is as Unnecessary as Many Remakes Are

After watching Len Wiseman’s remake of “Total Recall,” I wanted to ask my fellow audience members what they thought of it in hopes of finding a few who hadn’t seen the original directed by Paul Verhoeven. I actually found myself getting bored while watching this particular cinematic interpretation of Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” and I figured it was because I had seen the original dozens of times. But in retrospect, I don’t think it would have made a difference because my attitude towards this new version would have been the same in that it does not work in the slightest.

This is really a shame because Wiseman, best known for his “Underworld” movies and “Live Free or Die Hard,” had me coming into this remake with high hopes. I figured he would make this material his own and create an endlessly entertaining action flick. Instead, he drains all the fun out of the story, and what we get is a depressingly bland and uninspired motion picture which will be easily forgotten regardless of its excellent visual effects.

The story remains the same as before. Construction worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is living an ordinary existence with his loving wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), and wonders why his life isn’t further along than it already is. He attempts to remedy this by going to Rekall, a company which specializes in artificial memory implants, but it all goes haywire when he is met by a SWAT team whom he quickly eliminates. From there, he is on the run as he comes to discover is life was never what he thought it was to begin with.

The only real difference between this “Total Recall” and the original is that Wiseman keeps the action earthbound. No one gets their ass to Mars this time around as the future presented here shows Earth having been decimated by a global chemical war which has divided it into two superpowers: the United Federation of Britain and The Colony. They are both battling one another for supremacy, and transportation to and from each nation is done via “The Fall,” an enormous gravity elevator which functions like the Lex Luthor’s Escape ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain.  If there is a difference, it is that the characters here have long since gotten used to the speed of the drop.

With this “Total Recall” not taking its story to Mars, I was convinced Wiseman would be giving us something other than the same old thing with this remake. Having said that, events here are not much different from what Verhoeven gave us years ago. Even if this particular version did get its ass to Mars, I’m not sure it would have made things all that more interesting. Even with actresses like Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, I’m surprised this remake didn’t go all the way to Uranus (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Speaking of Beckinsale, she is one of “Total Recall’s” best assets. Some will say her Lori is not much different from her character of Selene from the “Underworld” movies, and that the only difference is that Lori is not wearing any tight-fitting leather clothing here. Whatever the case, I don’t really care because it’s a lot of fun watching Beckinsale kick butt at any chance she gets. That fierce look in her eyes is hard to pass up as she aims to eliminate her antagonists, particular Douglas Quaid, with extreme prejudice.

Biel is also fun to watch as Melina, and that’s even though her character feels like the same one she played in “The A-Team.” Other actors like Bryan Cranston who plays President Vilos Cohaagen and Bill Nighy who portrays rebel leader Matthias are wasted in roles which are ridiculously underwritten. This is a shame in the case of Cranston who looks to be having some fun playing such a corrupt leader.

Now Colin Farrell is a far more accomplished actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger, but even the former Governor of California proves to be the better Douglas Quaid. Farrell isn’t bad, but Schwarzenegger had such a strong screen presence in the 1990 film which is hard for anyone to compete with.

I’m guessing that ever since Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy, filmmakers have done their best to avoid campiness in action films. The original “Total Recall” did have a level of campiness about it, but that made ir all the more entertaining to watch.

For Wiseman, his “Total Recall” represents a total immersion into the realm of CGI effects. With “Live Free or Die Hard,” he didn’t rely on as he was determined to use the real thing as much as possible. That made the action in that sequl all the more invigorating, and I wish he got more of an opportunity to go in that direction with “Total Recall.” True, the special effects are amazing especially in the design of the cities which the characters inhabit, but the action scenes lack friction as you cannot past the fact that you are watching something which is nothing more than a visual effect.-

With Verhoeven’s “Total Recall,” you could never figure out if what you were watching was real or a dream, and he teased you with the possibilities throughout. but Wiseman instead makes the story more straightforward which frustratingly robs the story of its more suspenseful moments. The tension ends up disappearing at key moments which makes what we see utterly frustrating as a result.

In a sea of endless Hollywood remakes, “Total Recall” proves to be one of the most unnecessary. Someone like me is at a disadvantage here because I’m huge fan of the 1990 version, but this one is nowhere as much fun.

As for Wiseman making more movies which are dominated by CGI effects, he should consider this a divorce. Come on Wiseman, you are so much better than this!

* * out of * * * *

‘Passenger 57’ – Wesley Snipes is Great, The Movie is Not

There was a time long ago, before he decided against paying taxes, when Wesley Snipes was one of the biggest action stars working in movies. When you see an actor like that suddenly sink into the almost inescapable realm of direct-to-video films, you cannot help but feel a little sad. Seriously, Snipes is a better actor than many give him credit for these days. He wowed us in “New Jack City” and the “Blade” movies among others. But in between all that, he starred in crappy movies he usually proved to be the most watchable thing in. “Passenger 57” is one of those crappy movies but, for what it is worth, it is never boring for a second.

Snipes stars as John Cutter, a security specialist for an airline corporation who is taking a flight to Los Angeles to take a new job. He is the kind of character you might see in Sylvester Stallone movies like “Cliffhanger;” a man who has suffered a terrible tragedy and is now heading on to the road to redemption. Cutter watched his wife get shot to death in front of him during a convenience store robbery, so you can understand why he doesn’t smile a lot. Along with him on the plane is flight attendant, don’t dare call her a stewardess, Marti Slayton, played by Alex Datcher. Cutter just got through a training session with her where he chewed Slayton out for improvising a move where she succeeded in disarming a terrorist. Now he is trying to make it up to her, but she is not making it easy for him. Ironically, the thing Cutter chewed Slayton out about becomes their only option for survival.

Unbeknownst to Cutter, aboard the plane is terrorist Charles Rane (Bruce Payne) who is being shipped under the guard of FBI agents to await trial where he will most certainly be found guilty. Payne plays the villain of the piece with a seething glare you can find in any Stanley Kubrick film. It is a one-note performance, even if his character has the excuse of feeling no pain. At the same time, Payne does create a threatening presence as a villain to where he has us desperately wanting him to experience the most intense pain humanly possible. Seriously, karma has got to visit this asshole at some point.

Now this brings me to one of the key idiotic moves in this film. Charles Rane is responsible for all of these terrorist acts of destruction, many of them involving airplane explosions. So of course, the FBI has the bright idea of transporting him to trial via airplane. Not by car, train, or even in a cage or some contraption that they would use for Hannibal Lecter. Of course, if they didn’t take him on a plane, there would be no movie. I doubt it would have been anywhere as exciting to see Mr. Rane hijack a 1970’s Pinto. Then again, that might have made for some interesting fight scenes between him and Cutter.

Some movies have gaping holes in plot logic which don’t bother me because I don’t always realize they are happening while I am watching a movie. But when you have plot holes as big as the ones those dinosaurs could have walked through, it’s kind of hard to not notice them. “Passenger 57” is full of plot holes, and they left me scratching my head constantly. We have already gone over transporting an airline hijacker by airplane, but how does this terrorist manage to get on board after being taken off by the police? He has some guy shooting the officers taking him back on board, but how did he get all the way out there? Did the FBI even bother checking the backgrounds of the flight crew and passengers? Really, you can see it in the eyes of Rane’s henchmen. Then again, looks can be deceiving. And is it really possible for Cutter to get inside an airplane by sneaking up through the landing gear while the plane is taking off and not get crushed or blown away in the process?

To a certain extent, it almost shouldn’t matter as “Passenger 57” is entertaining enough. But if these logic loopholes give you a big enough headache, like being in the front row and staring right up at a movie like “JFK,” then it does. You can only be allowed to insult the intelligence of the audience so much before they get right back up in your face.

The other really big problem is that the majority of the acting here is God awful. Granted, Snipes is always fun to watch, and I even have good things to say about Elizabeth Hurley as well. The other actors, however, all speak as if their feet are nailed to the floor, and they emote more than anything else. This is especially evident on the ground when Snipes is confronted by a bunch of hillbilly cops that are clichéd and racist in inescapable ways. How rare it is that you see this much bad acting in a motion picture which was released theatrically.

Then again, you do have Tom Sizemore on board as Cutter’s friend of sorts, Sly Delvecchio. Even if he was on drugs while acting in this movie, he is never ever boring and raises the acting level ever so slightly for the rest of the cast. Then again, that helped only so much.

The movie was directed by Kevin Hooks who has done a lot more work these days in television than he has in feature films. But considering that he has worked on such shows as “24,” “Alias,” and “Homicide – Life on The Street” among others, it is clear he has a good hand for action and character than this particular motion picture would quickly suggest. Maybe the movie was so low budget that they didn’t have time to work on things more. If they did have more time, it would have ended up being far more entertaining and enthralling than what ended up onscreen here.

As I write this, Snipes has since gone through a career renaissance thanks to the combined efforts of Craig Brewer and Eddie Murphy who allowed him to let loose and go crazy in “Coming 2 America” and “Dolemite is My Name.” Seeing him in “Passenger 57” serves as a reminder of the kind of action movie star he was once upon a time, and he does make this one more watchable than it might be otherwise. Thanks to Snipes, he keeps me from giving this particular movie a more brutal review.

In the end, I can’t say I hated “Passenger 57,” but I never got bored by it either. This was made back when we had dozens of “Die Hard” knock-offs, and this one can safely be described as “Die Hard on A Plane.” If you want a better version of this movie, check out “Executive Decision” with Kurt Russell and Steven Segal which has better acting and characters. Better yet, check out “Air Force One” which stars Harrison Ford and was directed by Wolfgang Peterson.

After all this time, I can’t believe Roger Ebert liked this movie more than “Air Force One.”

* * out of * * * *

‘Bullet Train’ – A Bumpy but Entertaining Ride Thanks to Brad Pitt

Bullet Train” is one of those movies which takes you on an adrenaline-fueled ride and leaves you wrung out at its incredibly chaotic conclusion. Now I usually begin writing movie reviews soon after I watch one, but I had to sit down for a bit after and gather my thoughts when it came to this particular feature film. Yes, it is furiously entertaining, but the story does drag from time to time and there are moments which defy simple logic. Also, some have accused the film of trying to be Tarantino-esque as the director wants the characters to look and sound cool when they talk. My response to those criticisms is this: didn’t the trailers spell out to you that this is a motion picture which you will need to check your brain at the door while watching it?

Based on the Japanese novel “Maria Beetle” by Kōtarō Isaka, “Bullet Train” is not a perfect movie, few movies are for crying out loud, but for the most part I found myself really enjoying the chaos on display as we watch Brad Pitt portray an American assassin who makes his way through a Japanese train going at a speed of about 200 miles an hour through the country’s vast railway system.

Pitt’s character has no name here, but he is given the codename of Ladybug by his contact and handler, Maria Beetle (voiced by an Oscar winning actress whose voice you will recognize). His mission is a snatch-and-grab one as he is to collect a suitcase on a train heading to Kyoto and then get off at the next stop. Ladybug is also an experienced assassin who has been doing his job for far too long, and this looks to be one of those last mission before retirement gigs for him. Also, he is trying to find some inner peace in the midst of all his deadly deeds and is quick to encourage others to do the same. Yes, “Bullet Train” is that kind of movie.

Now Ladybug is quick to acquire the briefcase which acts as this movie’s McGuffin, but getting off the train quickly turns into an insane comedy of errors as he keeps running into other assassins whose missions prove to be very similar to his. Among them are British assassins Lemon and Tangerine (Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Japanese assassin Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji) who looks to avenge his son who lies in the hospital in critical condition, a Mexican assassin known as The Wolf (Benito A. Martinez Ocasio, a.k.a. Bad Bunny) who has a special grudge against Ladybug, and Prince (Joey King) who is a British assassin who received her codename only because her parents really wanted a boy instead of a girl.

With everything set up, we know these characters will eventually collide with one another in inventive and creative ways as their individual missions have an inevitable connection. Seeing it all happen on a train traveling at a very high speed is especially exciting as, while these assassins are trying to kill or trick one another, the rest of the passengers are sitting in their seats as, to quote a line from another movie starring Pitt, “calm as Hindu cows.” Oh yeah, there is a venomous snake which manages to escape its cage and slither about the train in the same way that spider crawled around the McCallister house in “Home Alone,” and you sit in fear of it striking at the least suspecting passenger.

Directing “Bullet Train” is David Leitch who helmed the very first “John Wick” film, the insanely entertaining “Deadpool 2,” and “Atomic Blonde” which starred Charlize Theron who gave a performance which should have had you saying, “not bad for a human.” Clearly, he is out to give us a fun-filled ride, and he delivers for the most part. Not everything lands in the way it should as some moments fall flat, but those which do hit had me enthralled and laughing my ass off. While it may not be as thrilling as “Top Gun: Maverick” or the vastly underappreciated “Ambulance,” Leitch for my money gives this motion picture more entertaining set pieces than not, and that makes it worth seeing in my opinion.

The other actors go out of their way to fully inhabit their roles regardless of whether or not their screen time is long or short. Both Taylor-Johnson and Henry work off of one another very well, and that’s even though I could not always understand every word coming out of their mouths. As for Henry, his character of Lemon goes out of his way to give us all a special appreciation of the British children’s television series “Thomas & Friends” and of all the different kinds of trains there are in the world.

One of my favorite performances comes from Joey King as the oddly named Prince. From the first time we see her, she proves to be an alluring presence as she uses her disguise as a schoolgirl to gleefully throw her antagonists off-balance in an almost sublime manner. Her eyes show us a character who is infinitely dedicated to taking out her main target with extreme prejudice, but she also succeeds brilliantly in deceiving those around her ever so easily. Seriously, King steals every scene she is in.

But yes, the one person who manages to connect everything together here is Brad Pitt who once again proves why he is one of Hollywood’s best and most dependable of movie stars. Even if his performance threatens to be too broad at times, he made this film especially fun and looks to be having the time of his life. There’s also a scene where we see him traveling through the train cars in slow motion (you will now what I am talking about when it happens), and the expressions he gives off prove to be absolutely priceless.

Now I cannot say that “Bullet Train” will remain in the mind long after you have watched it but watching proved to be a blast for the most part. While many may say it pales in comparison to other films from its genre, I was never quick to compare it to others. There may a few bumps and lags on this particular train ride, but I still enjoyed this film for what it was, and that was enough for me. And, like “Where the Crawdads Sing,” it makes me want to read the book it is based on.

Oh, there are some truly brilliant celebrity cameos to be found here, especially towards the end. Seriously, they are alone worth the price of admission, particularly when it comes to the one actor playing an assassin named Carver.

* * * out of * * * *

Paul Williams and Stephen Kessler Discuss ‘Paul Williams Still Alive’ at the Nuart

WRITER’S NOTE: As the opening paragraph indicates, this article was originally written ten years ago.

On June 27, 2012, singer and songwriter Paul Williams along with filmmaker Stephen Kessler appeared at the Nuart Theatre in support of their documentary “Paul Williams Still Alive.” After its conclusion, both men were greeted by a packed audience that had been deeply moved by what they just witnessed. The documentary follows up with Williams years after his enormous success back in the 1970s, and it finds him experiencing happiness and fulfillment in life he didn’t have back then.

Kessler has described making this documentary as “a labor of love,” but Williams quickly pointed out that it didn’t start that way. Their relationship when filming began was an uncomfortable one, but Williams eventually warmed up to Kessler, and their strong friendship proved to be very authentic as they talked with the audience at the Nuart. Kessler even went out of his way to say the following:

“I’ve never said this in front of people before, but you (Williams) were brave to do this movie.”

No one in the audience disagreed with this assessment. Williams described this as a “warts and all documentary” that shows him at his best and worst. One particular sequence, when he was co-hosting Merv Griffin’s talk show while on drugs, was one he originally wanted to be cut out as he was terribly afraid of what his kids would think about him. His son Cole, however, was in the audience, and when asked about what he thought of the documentary, he said, “It’s great dad!”

Kessler made it clear he had no intention of putting himself in this documentary, and he even said he “can’t stand movies that do that;” directors becoming the subject of their own films. His increased participation in “Paul Williams Still Alive,” however, helped to illuminate the songwriter much more than it would have without him. While Kessler keeps going back to the past, Williams looks to the future instead.

When Williams was asked when he reached his bottom as an alcoholic, he responded it happened when he started looking out the window for what he called the “tree police.” He even joked and said, “You know you’re an alcoholic when you’ve misplaced an entire decade.” What made him say this was the embarrassing truth that he forgot for a time that Ronald Reagan was once President of the United States.

Since becoming sober, Williams says he now knows what it feels like to be around people he feels safe with. He has also entered into what he calls his “Paulie Lama” period of life as he goes out of his way to pull people off of bar stools, and that he would be thrilled to work at the Betty Ford Center if asked.

1992’s “A Muppet Christmas Carol” marked the first project Williams ever did sober, and he remembered going into it feeling very scared. But after he finished working on it, he found he was able to approach his work in a more productive way:

“Success for me has to be about authenticity and honesty. Today I have to trust that I am enough. Never again will I ever let tension and my ego keep me from writing songs.” The emcee of the Nuart told us not to ask either of the two how much “Paul Williams Still Alive” cost to make or when it will come out on DVD. This is because he wants to see it again with as a big an audience in the midst of all these summer blockbusters being thrust at us. It is certainly one of the sweetest documentaries you will ever see, and to see Williams today is to see a man very comfortable with who he is and who does not need another cup of fame to feel better about himself.