‘Ted’ Remains One of the Funniest Comedies Ever

Man, I would have loved it if this had happened to me as a kid; having one of my stuffed animals come to life and me forming a lifelong friendship with it. That is what makes “Ted” one of the most enjoyable and funniest movies I saw back in 2012 as it makes that dream become a reality. Seth MacFarlane, the creator “Family Guy,” makes his live-action motion picture directorial debut here, and it is one of the few comedies which is not hit and miss as the laughs just keep on coming. “Ted” also balances out its wickedly crude humor with a lot of heart as the movie comes to look at how important friendships can be in life no matter what form they take.

At the movie’s start, we meet young John Bennett (Bretton Manley) who lives with his family in a town near Boston. The narration, delivered in brilliant fashion by Patrick Stewart, goes over how John has no friends and that even the Jewish kid in the neighborhood who keeps getting the crap kicked out of him by bullies wants nothing to do with him. Things change for the better when he receives a teddy bear for Christmas, whom he names Ted. John loves Ted so much to where he makes a wish for the bear to come alive, and I am sure you know what happens from there.

“Ted” doesn’t take long to get the comedy juices rolling as John’s parents (Alex Borstein and the hilarious Ralph Garman) are incredibly shocked to see their son’s teddy bear walking and talking on its own. After that, Ted becomes a celebrity of sorts as he has Johnny Carson in hysterics and ends up getting arrested at the airport for drug possession. Throughout all of this, he and John remain the best of friends through all things and share many common interests including a serious fear of thunder.

Moving forward to the present, John is now played by Mark Wahlberg and works at a car rental agency. He and Ted still enjoy hanging out together while getting high and doing stupid things when left to their own devices. At the same time, John has been in a long-term relationship with the beautiful Lori Collins (Mila Kunis), and she ends up giving John an ultimatum to get Ted to move out of their apartment so they can move on with their lives.

The fact is Ted has become incredibly obnoxious, unthinkably vulgar, and gleefully hedonistic; something which does not stop once he is finally forced to move out and get his own apartment. He even finds a job at a supermarket despite being grossly inappropriate during an interview with the manager. Instead of giving the manager a reason not to hire him, Ted impresses him with his behavior. Either that or he is just desperate for any employee he can get to work for minimum wage.

During this time, Ted still manages to get John to hang out with him, and this results in John having to lie to Lori while making ridiculous excuses to get out of work. One night with Ted which John cannot possibly turn down is when Sam J. Jones, the star of their favorite movie “Flash Gordon,” shows up for a party at Ted’s apartment. You have to give Jones a lot of credit for sending himself up and having a good sense of humor about the popularity of the 1980 camp classic as he portrays himself as a hard living actor looking for a comeback. Even Ted cannot help but remind John about how Jones’ performance in “Flash Gordon” ended up redefining what it means to act in a movie (and not necessarily in a good way).

Truth be told, “Ted” could have just worked with its crude yet irresistible humor as it scores one big laugh after another. But its main success is how it also combines that crude humor with a lot of heart. The movie is really about the power of friendships and the struggle to keep them going when other things get in the way. As crazy as Ted gets, be it humping a checkout scanner or even snorting cocaine, even he comes to see he has to change his ways just like John has to in his own way. But whatever you do, do not get Ted started on Teddy Ruxpin, seriously!

I have never watched “Family Guy” on a regular basis, so I cannot compare “Ted” to it. Regardless, this film does show him to have a great sense of humor as well as a good appreciation for the stranger parts of popular culture. It is also a must for fans of “Flash Gordon” as it pays homage to its so bad it is good qualities. MacFarlane also throws in jabs at other pop culture targets like Taylor Lautner, Justin Bieber, and even Brandon Routh whose performance in “Superman Returns” is not exactly respected here.

Wahlberg is utterly hilarious, but this should be no surprise to anyone who saw him share the screen with Will Ferrell in “The Other Guys.” The scene where he lists off “white trash girls names” in rapid fire succession is a comic highlight, but even that gets outdone by the vicious fight scene he and Ted have. For a moment I thought Ted would descend into Chucky (the doll from the “Child’s Play” movies) territory, but even he doesn’t get that crude. Still, it results in some of the biggest laughs I have ever had in a movie theater.

Mila Kunis remains as engaging as ever, playing the same wonderful type of character she played in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Having her in this movie as Lori makes John’s need to get rid of Ted seem like a real no-brainer. Kunis also gets to play Lori as someone not bound by typical clichés, and she ends up making Lori the most intelligent person in the entire movie as a result.

There is also Giovanni Ribisi showing up as crazed stalker Donny who wants to buy Ted from John so he can give the teddy bear to his son Robert (Aedin Mincks). Donny cannot bring himself to say no to anything his son wants (bad parent alert!), and this includes giving Robert a toy he may very well end up destroying. Granted, Ribisi’s role in “Ted” might seem unnecessary as it adds something the plot does not necessarily need, but it’s worth it just so we can watch his truly creepy dance to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

The design of Ted is that of a generic teddy bear, the kind you end up adding your own personality to. It was smart to go with this kind of bear instead of with some iconic stuffed animal with a built-in personality. You never quite know what is going to come out of Ted’s mouth next. While it may seem somewhat unrealistic for any teddy bear or stuffed animal to be having this much fun, women of any age are quick to hug one quicker than men nearby. This is the story of my life these days, dammit.

Seriously, “Ted” was one of the best comedies I ever got to watch in a theater. Now a lot of this has to do with my continued affection for stuffed animals after all these years, but it also proved to be one of those comedies which was not hit and miss like many I see. It speaks to those special memories we had with our stuffed animals growing up, and of how they eventually bec0me as crazy as us.

* * * * out of * * * *

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘Cannonball Run II’

Copyright HAG ?2008

I remember almost renting “Cannonball Run II” on VHS from Nino’s TV and Video in Thousand Oaks when I was a kid. I enjoyed the first “Cannonball Run” movie a lot and watched it many times, and these days I rate it as an Ultimate Rabbit guilty pleasure. But when I presented it to my dad as the movie I wanted to rent for the weekend, he looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want to rent this? It’s really awful.” This shook my courage in renting movies for a time as I began to doubt my taste in film. As a result, I put this one back on the shelf even though its poster looked ever so cool.

Well, while my dad’s pleas failed to keep me from renting the Clint Eastwood comedy “Every Which Way But Loose,” it did keep me from checking out “Cannonball Run II” for many years. But at a time when I should have been watching such films as “Tar,” “The Banshees of Inisherin” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” I found myself watching this 1984 sequel as it was available to view for free on You Tube (with ads of course). And though I was not expecting a good movie in the slightest, I was stunned at just how amazingly atrocious this follow up was as everyone involved cannot even bother to give the proceedings a mere 50% of their energies.

This sequel starts off with the Sheik Abdul ben Falafel (Jamie Farr) being berated by his father (played by Ricardo Montalban) for losing the Cannonball Run race last year. Having embarrassed the Falafel family (you read that family name correctly), Abdul’s father orders him to win another Cannonball Run in order to restore the family name. The problem is, there is no Cannonball Run race happening that year, so Abdul is told to buy one, and the grand prize is a million dollars.

From there, “Cannonball Run II” begins its arduous task of reintroducing characters from the original as well as introducing a whole bunch of new ones who could only dream of being as funny as Roger Moore was when he played  Seymour Goldfarb, Jr. In fact, Hal Needham, who returns to direct this misbegotten sequel, spends more time with these characters than he does with the race itself.

Burt Reynolds is back as J.J. McClure, and he looks like he can save this motion picture with his charisma and sexy mustache. Dom DeLuise also returns as J.J.’s partner Victor Prinzi and his alter ego of Captain Chaos. These two always look to be having the time of their lives when they work together, but the fun they have does not translate over to the audience as it did for me in the original. This is especially the case when you watch the outtakes which play over the end credits, and you wonder what made the cast enjoy themselves endlessly as their laughter speaks more of a desperation to make this sequel worth watching.

When it comes to racing partnerships, there are a few changes. Jackie Chan is joined this time in his Mitsubishi car by Richard Kiel who plays his driver, Arnold. Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing (Jack Elam), J.J. and Victor’s partner in crime previously, is now working with Sheik Abdul to keep his ulcer in check. And Susan Anton and Catherine Bach are here to replace Tara Buckman and Adrienne Barbeau as those sexy women behind the wheel of a Lamborghini. Still, as Snake Plissken kept saying in “Escape From L.A.,” the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In directing “Cannonball Run II,” I had to wonder what was going through Needham’s mind. Was he just telling a cast which included Shirley McClaine, Dean Martin, Marilu Henner, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tony Danza among others to just go out there and be funny? If so, it did not work to anyone’s advantage as everyone looks to be either phoning it in or trying way too hard to put a smile on our faces. And if you thought the stunts from the original were lacking, the ones here are generic and pedestrian at best.

The only decently funny moment for me was at the beginning with Ricardo Montalban who plays his role as if he is not in on the joke in the slightest. Heck, he even makes the word falafel sound vaguely amusing in a way Bill O’Reilly only thinks he can. Perhaps if the rest of the cast had followed suit, this sequel might have been slightly better than it ever could have hoped to be.

I also keep thinking Needham and company kept looking at this sequel and its making to where he believed he could solve anything and everything in post. There’s a subplot involving mobsters which goes nowhere and has actors like Abe Vigoda being cast just for old time’s sake. And, yes, there is an orangutan driving a car, but he can only hope to be as memorable as Clyde was in “Every Which Way But Loose.”

So much time is spent on such overly broad character moments that Needham and his collaborators kept forgetting there was a long-distance race involved in this movie’s plot. As a result, they brought in Ralph Bakshi to animate the race’s climax in order to give it some momentum, but it doesn’t do much to speed things up, especially after a cameo with Frank Sinatra who plays himself. And yes, it is ever so easy to tell that Sinatra filmed his scenes in a studio by his lonesome. Not once do we see him and actors Reynolds, DeLuise and others in the same scene together.

“Cannonball Run II” will at best be remembered as a footnote in history for the following reasons: it marked Frank Sinatra’s final role in a theatrical motion picture, it is the final action stunt comedy for Reynolds following such films as “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Hooper” among others, it was the last film for Dean Martin, Molly Picon and Jim Nabors who is essentially parodying his character of Gomer Pyle. Other than that, this one is a certifiable waste of 108 minutes out of your life.

What is my excuse for wasting my precious time with “Cannonball Run II?” I will treat that as a rhetorical question. Still, its poster does looks really cool.

½* out of * * * *

‘Glass Onion’ – Another Ingenious Film From the ‘Knives Out’ Filmmaker

Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion” is one of those movies I would love to analyze in every single way. It is so cleverly constructed to where I want to know how he went about writing the screenplay. Putting a mystery like this together cannot be the least bit easy because nothing this ingenious comes to any filmmaker easily, and I have to believe Johnson had this story percolating in his brain for many years before it became a reality. This film has several layers viewers will have plenty of fun peeling away at, and the misdirections it employs are wonderfully insidious in a way Ben Shapiro will never be able to appreciate like any intelligent audience member can.

On top of being named after a classic Beatles song, “Glass Onion” is also Johnson’s sequel to “Knives Out.” Or, more correctly, it is a standalone sequel as the only actor returning from “Knives Out” is Daniel Craig who returns to play private detective Benoit Blanc. This time, Benoit has found himself invited to the private island of the billionaire co-founder of the technology company Alpha, Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Miles has brought together a group of his friends together on his island in Greece to play a murder mystery game, and they include Alpha head scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), controversial fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) who is accompanied by her harried assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick), and men’s rights streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) who is accompanied by his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline). But the most controversial guest of all is Andi Brand (Janelle Monae), the other co-founder of Alpha who was ousted from this group a long time ago, and yet she appears here to everyone’s utter shock.

Still, none of this deters Miles from getting his guests to solve the murder mystery he has in store for them. There is, however, one catch. The murder everyone needs to solve is Miles’, and it is here my friends that I refuse to tell you anymore about the story. To do so would ruin an insidiously good time you are bound to have while watching this.

Having seen “Knives Out,” I was tempted to believe I knew which direction Johnson was going to take the audience in with this follow up. But after a good twenty or so minutes, he pulls the rug out right from under us to where I really did not know where things would be heading. While it might seem obvious as to who will get murdered, it is actually not in the slightest. And once the first murder is committed, you become every bit as inquisitive and fearful as the other characters because no one can ever feel safe on this island from there.

Watching “Glass Onion,” I kept wondering what inspirations fueled Johnson to write and construct this screenplay with. Surely he could not have come up with all of this on how own, or did he? Did he read a lot of mystery novels by Agatha Christie and Gregory McDonald? Even I have to catch up with all those “Fletch” novels which I keep promising to myself I will read someday. Watching everything come together is a sheer blast as I kept thinking the fun could only last for so long until everything falls apart. But nothing ever fell apart for me as all the story elements seem to fit together perfectly in a way they never could have in all those “Saw” movies.

The average Pixar movie has so many easter eggs to where watching them once can never be enough. “Glass Onion” is no different as there are so many things you have to keep an eye out for, and the number of name drops of famous people throughout feels endless. There is also a plethora of cameos here which are too good to spoil here as they come out of nowhere, and the one involving Benoit’s partner in life is truly priceless.

I believe Craig’s role as Benoit Blanc may eventually supersede his most famous role to date as James Bond since he is clearly having far more fun playing this character than he ever did as 007 (seriously, just ask Dave Bautista). While playing a British spy may have forced this actor to act within certain boundaries, writer/director Johnson is more than willing to let him turn loose as a private investigator who is a mix of Jacques Clouseau and Sherlock Holmes. The joy of Craig’s performance is that he keeps you guessing as to whether he will solve a crime by sheer accident, or if he will actually deduce who the guilty person is before anyone else can.

The rest of the “Glass Onion” cast prove to be as game as the cast of “Knives Out,” and this did not surprise me in the slightest. Kate Hudson channels her mother Goldie Hawn’s character from “Overboard” here as Birdie Jay, and it is nice to see here in a motion picture which is as deserving of her talents as “Almost Famous” was. Kathryn Hahn brought her sublime and harried comedic talents as Governor Claire Debella here, and her constant exasperation proves to be a continued joy. Bautista once again proves there is much more to him than his character of Drax in those “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies in his portrayal of YouTube star Duke Cody, and that’s even though we should have known this after seeing him in “Blade Runner 2049.” And there is no ignoring Edward Norton who makes tech billionaire Miles Bron into every bit the bumbling manager Elon Musk has proven to be when it comes to Twitter. Of course, this is nothing more than an amazing coincidence as Johnson started writing this movie long before the Tesla visionary even thought about buying the internet app James Woods used to go apeshit on.

But the one performance worth singling out in “Glass Onion” is the one given by Janelle Monae. She portrays Andi Brand, but her role proves to be far more complex than at first glance asshe has to sell us on different facets of an individual we did not walk into the theater expecting to see. Again, I do not want to give anything away, but Monae has more to do here than the other actors, and the fact she pulls this off is beyond admirable as it makes her work look all the more impressive.

You know, when you look at Rian Johnson’s filmography, he has always appeared to be a mystery buff of sorts. His breakthrough movie, “Brick,” was a neo-noir mystery, but while his next film, “The Brothers Bloom,” was more of a caper, it still featured characters searching for answers which constantly elude them. The same goes with my favorite Johnson movie to date, “Looper,” as well as “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in which characters we know or don’t know are trying to find some way to silence the chaos which constantly disrupts their seemingly peaceful existence.

Taking this into account, I cannot wait to see where Johnson and Craig take this franchise next. Thanks to the deal they have with Netflix, we can expect at least one more “Knives Out” installment in the future, and maybe there will be even more following that. Like James Cameron with his “Avatar” movies, Johnson and company are not about us to give us the same exact thing twice.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ – James Cameron Wows Us Yet Again

It is surreal that “Avatar: The Way of Water” has finally arrived in movie theaters after having its release delayed so many times. The original “Avatar” came out in 2009, and since then we have been promised a number of sequels which never quite made it to the silver screen regardless of what James Cameron promised us. This got to be aggravating for everyone including myself as I kept rolling my eyes whenever Cameron said the sequels would be coming out soon. Like many, I wanted to just yell out, “release them already!” But while so much has happened between 2009 and 2022, it suddenly feels like it was just yesterday when we first visited Pandora and all those blue people, and I was reminded about how wowed I was by everything Cameron put on display.

Well, I can certainly see why Cameron kept us waiting for years and years as he wanted to break new cinematic ground, and he has done so with again with this long awaited sequel. While “Avatar: The Way of Water” may not have the most complex of stories or characters, and his films rarely do, he succeeds in giving us one hell of a cinematic experience as he spends a lot of the 192 minutes wowing us in ways I thought he was no longer capable of. Like “Top Gun: Maverick,” I cannot wait to see it again.

Over a decade has passed since the Na’vi repelled the human invasion of Pandora, and Jake Sully is now the leader of the Omaticaya tribe. He and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) are now parents to four children; two adventurous sons and two girls who are so fascinated by the world and creatures constantly surrounding them. But like all happily ever after endings, this fairy tale eventually comes crashing down in a nightmarish fashion.

The Resources Development Administration (RDA) has now returned to Pandora, but instead of obtaining that brilliantly named mineral called unobtanium, they are this time intent on inhabiting the planet as Earth is now in its death throes because there were never enough people there who realized climate change was real. And in this futuristic time Cameron has thrust us into, manifest destiny has taken humanity from conquering planets to taking over galaxies because, you know, heaven forbid adults get given the same kind of boundaries children are and eventually benefit from. Once again, humans are out to, as George Carlin once said, free the people and whip a little industry on them.

Fearing the worst, Jake and Neytiri flee the Omaticaya tribe along with their children and take refuge with the Metkayina reef people in hopes they will never be found by the RDA. The family, however, has trouble fitting in as they are tree people while Metkayinas are water people. This leads to a lot of awkward situations between everyone as the kids hate being uprooted and are not sure how to act around those who know the water more than what is above it.

It is when “Avatar: The Way of Water” goes into the waters of Pandora that it really takes off. The underwater footage is nothing short of amazing as we are taken through the many depths of the planet and are introduced to various aquatic creatures who must be seen to be believed. A good portion of the footage was shot in a higher frame rate (HFR) which gives the visuals a clarity which makes them look even more astonishing than they already are. I have not always been a big fan of HFR as it can make things look a little too crystal clear, and Cameron knew not shoot the whole movie in this format as the audience could have been easily alienated, but he makes HFR work to not just his advantage, but the audience’s as well.

Now much has been said about this sequel’s making and of how the actors spent many minutes underwater. As the Na’vi children are made to experience the underwater realm, “The Way of Water” could almost be seen as an advertisement for free-diving. Spend just a minute or two in the shallows or the depths is not enough to take in the last frontier left to explore on Earth or any other planet, but we are also reminded of the dangers of staying underwater for too long, and Cameron knows we know this, so he squeezes ever last ounce of tension to make this clear.

Cameron also gets to deal with themes which have been prevalent throughout his movies and documentaries to where I am quickly reminded of a line from “Aliens” uttered by Sigourney Weaver where she pointed out the difference between humans and certain extraterrestrials:

“You know, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other for a goddamn percentage.”

 Indeed, we are given plenty of proof here of how marine life can be far more intelligent than humanity, and it makes the humans decimation of such sea creatures in scenes which reminded me of similar ones in “Jaws” even more painful. Clearly, these fish hunters never took the time to watch “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” at least once, and the fluid they remove from these creatures is treated as being even more profitable than unobtanium. All I can say about this fluid is that it’s the kind which would just fly off the shelves in Beverly Hills. I mean, heaven forbid anyone allows themselves to age gracefully, you know?

The inhabitants of Pandora also get to talk to whales in this movie, something which I am sure would make Doctor Doolittle infinitely envious. Now on paper this may have looked incredibly silly, but I never found myself laughing at those scenes where the characters could talk to the animals. That, and maybe I just want to believe deep down that we can do this for real someday if we haven’t already.

As complex as the visual effects are, the same cannot be said about the movie’s story or screenplay. Even with several other credited writers, nothing here sounds like it could have come out of a David Mamet play. Then again, Cameron has not always been known for giving such complexities when it comes to his screenplays. What you see is what you get, and it is up to the actors to bring to life even if the dialogue is not particularly great.

Speaking of the actors, their performances are mostly excellent, and the best ones come from those who will not simply let the effects teams do all the work for them. This is especially the case with Zoe Saldana who puts every single ounce of her energy into Neytiri to where the motion capture, visual effects and her performance all combine to create one big passionate fireball of energy. The same goes for Kate Winslet, reuniting with Cameron for the first time since “Titanic,” who portrays the pregnant Metkayina free diver Ronal with a passion to where it took me forever to realize it was the Oscar winning actress of “The Reader” who was playing this character.

I also have to say how envious I was of Sigourney Weaver here. Not only does she reprise her role of Dr. Grace Augustine, but she also portrays the daughter of her Na’vi avatar, Kiri. Weaver portrays Kiri with all the innocence a child could have as she comes into contact with things she is ever so quick to learn from and use to her advantage.

But my favorite performance of all comes from Stephen Lang who returns as the nefarious Colonel Miles Quaritch, albeit in Na’vi form as he died in the last movie. With his mind implanted in this avatar with memories of his past life, Miles has not changed one bit as he seeks bloody revenge on Jake Sully for what he sees as betraying his own kind. But thanks to Lang, he gives us an antagonist who is never one-dimensional as his goals are led by a patriotic duty which, while misguided, fuels his heart in ways nothing else can. Still, he lets us see another dimension hiding within Miles as he comes to meet the son he left behind on Pandora, Spider (Jack Champion), who has long since become accustomed to the environment he has been living in.

Everything in “Avatar: The Way of Water” leads to an adrenaline-fueled climax which echoes the most intense moments from one of Cameron’s more underrated works, “The Abyss,” as Jake and company are forced to literally keep their heads above water as they fight off those who exploit their planet for their own greedy purposes. When it comes to Cameron, he never lets us down when it comes to infinitely exciting third acts.

No, this is not a perfect movie, and it does not surprise how many detractors out there are quick to point this out. But still, Cameron still knows how to create a cinematic spectacle which is best experienced at a theater near you. Furthermore, no other filmmaker out there can make 3D seem like much more than a mere gimmick than he can. Regardless of how annoying it was to wait this long for an “Avatar” sequel, I think it was worth the wait. But more importantly, I am relieved we will not have to wait all that long for the next installment, and I cannot wait to see where these characters will go next.

Just remember this quote when you come out of “Avatar; The Way of Water:”

“They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all.”

That quote is from “Whales Weep Not” by D.H. Lawrence. And yes, I got that quote from a pivotal scene in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.”

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Black Adam’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

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

I always make sure to preface my review of any superhero film by informing the reader that I go into these films as a novice. I do not know anything about the backstories, the characters, or if it’s true to its source material. However, I am a firm believer that if a film is good, it can be enjoyed without an audience member knowing anything about the superhero.  It should be able to stand on its own merits. There is no denying the movie star appeal of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but I do have serious questions about some of the film roles he has picked for himself. He has proven both in wrestling and in certain films like “Central Intelligence” that he has a charisma very few can match.  He is an authentic human being who is filled with charm for days, and I would like to see more of that in his future projects. This film, though, called for a different type of performance out of him.

Black Adam” is initially set in 2600 B.C. where a crown was created by Ahk-Ton of Kahndaq in order to give him the powers of a demon. The film then moves to the present day, and it shows Kahndaq in a state of distress at the hands of Intergang, a crime syndicate that doesn’t like to play by the rules. Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) is looking to obtain the Crown of Sabbac, and she has enlisted the help of her brother, Karim (Mohammed Amer), along with their associates Samir (James Cusati-Moyer) and Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari). It should be noted she has good intentions for the Crown. Once Adrianna gets her hands on the crown, she awakens Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) from a lengthy slumber. She is under the impression that he is the hero of Kahndaq after he saves her from Intergang.  Government officials from America, however, believe Teth-Adam is dangerous and not a hero, and they bring in the Justice Society to make sure he will not inflict any harm on anyone.

The Justice Society consists of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo). However, Adrianna’s son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), believes there is good inside of Teth-Adam as, after all, he saved his mother from Intergang.  There might be some darkness and a past to Teth-Adam, but Amon believes if Teth-Adam can come up with a cool catchphrase and harness his powers for the right cause, he can be a really special superhero.  There is a past with Teth-Adam, one which still haunts him to this day, and he is a complex character with an interesting backstory and more layers than one would expect.

I found the story of “Black Adam” interesting, layered and geared more toward adults than children.  I cannot imagine this is the kind of superhero film that will appeal to many children.  The first half does a good job of laying out the stakes, allowing the characters to develop, and letting us spend time with them where we get to know them.  This is a more restrained performance from Johnson. As soon as you find out his backstory and what happened to him in his past, you understand why.  This is not the Dwayne Johnson we are used to seeing in his other films, and he gives a solid and understated performance. He has to express a lot of emotions throughout the film, and he does a great job with that. Sarah Shahi is really, really good here and shows just the right amount of powerful vulnerability and humanity throughout.

With the Justice Society, the standout performer was clearly Aldis Hodge. I have been enjoying his work for a while now, and he holds his own with Johnson and even steals a few scenes. I felt like Pierce Brosnan was not given a whole lot to do with his role as Doctor Fate, but he does come across as wise and insightful with his performance.  He is an observer of what’s going on and trying to come to terms with what he knows is going to happen because he’s aware of when people are going to die.  The younger actors, Quintessa Swindell and Noah Centineo, are very, very effective, but again, they are not given enough screen time to really shine and show off their acting chops. I liked what I saw from them, but I wanted to see more.

Overall, “Black Adam” is an entertaining superhero film with a dark backstory that I enjoyed.  The special effects, action, and pacing are lacking, however, and they hold the film back.  I wish they had a tighter script as the last forty-five minutes are really lagging and keep everything from ending on the right note.  I see elements of a really, really good superhero film here, but they don’t all come together.  There are actors, moments, and scenes where I said to myself, “Now, this is working.  Let’s stay here.”  Other times, I was thinking to myself, “This is sound and fury, signifying nothing.” It is an average film but with good to great signs of life sprinkled throughout its running time.

* * out of * * * *

4K Info: “Black Adam” is being released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. The set also comes with a digital copy of the film.  It has a running time of 125 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, intense action, and some language.

4K Video Info: We do get Dolby Vision here, but I have to say, I was pretty let down with the visuals of this film.  Don’t get me wrong, it is very clear and crisp, but it doesn’t quite pop like it should.  I understand the film is called “Black Adam,” and it’s supposed to have muted and hushed tones, but there is a way where you can use these to create an interesting 4K transfer with great visuals.  I thought it looked just OK.  There was not anything which really impressed me or stood out.

4K Audio Info:  The Dolby Atmos track brings the power.  It really enhances the action scenes without being too loud or overpowering to where it is distracting and you are reaching for your remote to turn the volume down on your soundbar.

Special Features:

The History of Black Adam

Who is The Justice Society?

From Soul to Screen

Black Adam: A Flawed Hero

Black Adam: New Tech in an Old World

Black Adam: Taking Flight

Kahndaq: Designing a Nation

The Rock of Eternity

Costumes make the hero

Black Adam: A new type of action

Should You Buy It?

I do not think “Black Adam” as a film or as a 4K disc is something you need to add to your collection at its current price.  It was entertaining for two hours, but it did not reinvent the wheel or leave me with any lasting impressions which stayed with me after the credits rolled. I did not hate it nor did I love it.  It was an entertaining superhero film which, of course, is fine, but I think fans are looking for something a little more than just “fine.”  There are some good special features here, though.  I was disappointed with how the film looked on 4K, as I was expecting an impressive and powerful transfer.  It is just OK as well.  The audio is really good, as I mentioned earlier.  I can see what they were going for here and what their intentions were, but the pacing and the special effects really stop this film dead in its tracks. I recommend you check it out on HBO Max, but I would not 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.

Revisiting ‘Avatar’ in its IMAX Special Edition

Avatar-rerelease-movie-poster-limited

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written in 2010.

I really did mean to see “Avatar” in IMAX while it was still playing in theaters, but I never got around to it, unfortunately. After a bit, all the hoopla surrounding the movie was met with people deriding it and calling it a remake of “Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest” or “Dances with Wolves,” and I got worn out from hearing all the complaints. I knew “Avatar” was not going to have an original storyline, so there was no way I could have been disappointed. But after watching it on a regular screen in 3D, I was really eager to see how it played on in IMAX. With Cameron, you can always count on seeing his movies being made with the utmost technical precision. If there is a technological glitch anywhere, it’s someone else’s fault, not his.

At the end of August 2010, “Avatar” got re-released specifically in IMAX theaters around the country, and it had been extended to include scenes that were not in the original theatrical version. There is a total of 9 minutes of extra footage here, and Cameron succeeded in blending these new scenes into the film seamlessly. The new footage includes the following additions:

  • There are more of the Stingbat and Sturmbeat creatures which had their own standout scenes in the first version. The Stingbats look even more wonderful than they did previously, and that’s saying quite a bit.
  • You get more hunting sequences including one in which Jake and Neytiri fly up in the sky and shoot at the animals down below with arrows. This adds more to how Jake interacts and learns from the Na’vi, and how he becomes more open to being taken in by them.
  • There’s an additional sequence where Jake, Grace, and Norm visit a school where Grace taught which has since been turned into a storage space (and not a carefully looked after one). The moment when Jake spots bullet holes in the chalkboard says a lot about how the military infrastructure on the planet is causing more harm than doing any good for the people. It’s a haunting image that filled me with things I did not want to think about as school violence appears to be rising.
  • We get to see a Na’vi counterattack after the bulldozers have laid waste to some of the most sacred parts of Pandora. It is a foreshadowing of the devastating battle the humans will soon bring to the planet’s inhabitants, and of how fighting fire with fire does not always work to one’s advantage. This is especially the case when the other side has more firepower.
  • The sex scene between Jake and Neytiri is longer, but don’t get too excited about it. There’s no insertion of anything or any penetration on display (this is a PG-13 movie after all!), just more hugging and cuddling. We still have yet to see how the Na’vi makes out with one another. I guess we’ll have to wait for the “unrated” edition to see that (lol).
  • There’s a strong emotional scene towards the end between Jake and the Na’vi which reminded me of the final moment between Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe in “The Last Samurai.” However familiar or similar this scene may seem, it still adds much to the story as it makes Jake’s destiny on Pandora all the more important.

Basically, all the scenes don’t ever feel extraneous, and each adds much to what we had previously seen in theaters back in 2009. Say whatever you want about Cameron’s dialogue or lack of original storylines, but he remains one hell of a storyteller. Clearly, this whole movie was in his head for years and years, and he got every last detail down perfectly. Considering how long he worked on “Avatar,” it’s safe to say he waited extremely patiently until technology finally met up with him so he could tell this tale properly.

Now I’m not going into another long-winded review of “Avatar” as many of my thoughts on the movie have not changed. I do have to say, however, that it was worth the $20 bucks (yes, it was that much) to see it in IMAX. The movie didn’t fill the entire screen, more like three-quarters of it actually, but that was fine. Witnessing Cameron’s film in this format made the experience of watching it all the more immersive. I got serious vertigo watching this special edition at times as it felt like I was moving along with the characters at certain points. I had this same experience when I watched “The Dark Knight” in IMAX, and there were a number of scenes that were shot in the actual IMAX format in that one. I felt like I was floating along with the camera and wherever it went, and it is a feeling I never get enough of at the movies.

I noticed even more that the 3D really brings you into the movie more without calling too much attention to itself with scenes featuring ash falling through the air after the humans wipe out certain parts of Pandora, it started to feel like the debris was coming right off the screen.

Also, it should be clearer than ever that “Avatar” is a powerful anti-imperialist movie, and that it is not a fan of Americans invading other countries. There’s no respect for the rights of the indigenous population on Pandora, and we keep seeing this going on right here on Earth. It makes me wonder if history will ever stop repeating itself.

Seeing “Avatar” on the average-sized movie screen at your local theater is quite something, but watching it in IMAX is a whole other thing. No wonder this has been such an enormous hit around the world. Cameron sucks you visually and emotionally in ways most filmmakers only think they can. Most people I know of these days would prefer to wait until a movie comes out on DVD so they can watch it at home, but this is the kind of motion picture which was made to be seen in a cinema, let alone in IMAX.

* * * * out of * * * *

James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ – A Cinematic Spectacle Like Few Others

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2009.

“That is our (USA) job around the world; run in, free some people, and whip a little industry on them. So they can enjoy the benefits of industry that we have come to enjoy (cough).”

-George Carlin from “Class Clown”

“Some of the darkest chapters in the history of my world involve the forced relocation of a small group of people to satisfy the demands of a large one. I’d hoped that we had learned from our mistakes but it seems that some of us haven’t.”

“Jean-Luc, we’re only moving 600 people.”

“How many people does it take, Admiral before it becomes wrong? A thousand? Fifty thousand? A million? HOW MANY PEOPLE DOES IT TAKE, ADMIRAL?!”

-Patrick Stewart and Anthony Zerbe from “Star Trek: Insurrection”

We waited for this one almost as long as we waited for the release of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy,” and now it is here. James Cameron has been at it again, making the most expensive movie ever, but this is nothing new and I am so burned out from hearing all the gossip about his movie budgets. The naysayers were out in full force proclaiming this would be a disaster as its release was delayed a number of times. But “Avatar” once again shows there is no one more equipped than Cameron to change the way we look at movies. With his latest epic, he has achieved the impossible and completely blurred the line between what is real and what is a special effect, and I could never tell the difference from start to finish.

You have to give a lot of credit to this ambitious director for being ever so patient. Cameron waited years for the technology to catch up to where he could tell this story most effectively, and he even invented a new camera with his brother to make the most convincing 3D movie we could ever hope to see. So many others would be in a hurry to get a movie up on the screen to where nothing but shortcuts are taken, but “Avatar” had a two year post production period (the longest ever) to get every little detail covered. This movie needs to be seen on the big screen as it was made for it. Waiting for a physical or digital release to watch it on would be tragic.

“Avatar” stars Sam Worthington as Jake Sully. Jake is a former marine who is now paralyzed from the waist down, and he does not ask for sympathy or pity. He ends up being recruited for a mission on Pandora, a moon on the far reaches of space. This mission was originally meant for his brother, but he passed away before he could take it on. Pandora is inhabited by very tall blue creatures called the Na’vi, and avatars of them have been created so that humans can walk among them undetected so they can be studied more closely.

Of course, these avatars are also being closely observed by the military as they plan to infiltrate the Na’vi and force them off their sacred land. For what reason? So that the greedy corporation (is there any other kind these days?) can get at the mineral called unobtanium (nice play on words). This mineral represents an enormous cash cow for soulless investors back on Earth, and it also serves as a much-needed source of energy it desperately needs. In the future, it appears humanity has extended the manifest destiny policy from other countries to the far reaches of space. I mean, heaven forbid we allow other cultures to handle their precious resources without our unsolicited advice! Do we ever learn?

Anyway, the story of “Avatar” has been told many times before; a disillusioned military officer comes face to face with people he has been fighting, and soon he becomes enamored with their lifestyle and code of honor to where he is integrated into their society. This has been the basis for “Dances with Wolves” and “The Last Samurai” and even “The Emerald Forest.”. We know the setup and how it’s all going to go, but Cameron still makes it work by having us invest emotionally in these characters. By doing so, all the action and the visuals presented to us become all the more enthralling.

Seriously, Cameron has been one of the very best storytellers in movies for decades now. This at times gets lost on people because his dialogue can be quite cringe inducing. You want to go up to him and make him realize people don’t talk to each other the way he thinks they do. It constantly reminds me of what Harrison Ford told George Lucas about his script for “Star Wars”:

“You can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it!”

For what’s it worth, however, Lucas makes Cameron sound like David Mamet.

Regardless, the strength of the story he has concocted makes the visuals on display all the more exhilarating. My big issue with most effects driven movies is you can tell when you are watching a CGI effect. All this does is completely take me out of the movie to where I roll my eyes and wonder why Hollywood regularly underestimates audiences.

Now at the start of “Avatar,” when Jake is looking at the creature he will be, you can definitely tell what is real and what is computer generated. But as the movie goes on, I honestly couldn’t figure out which was which. I tried, believe me I tried to see the difference, but there was just no way. Plus, the motion capture they used on the actors is astonishing. The avatars are made to look like the actors playing them, and the movements are so amazingly lifelike to where it makes every other 2009 movie see, like it was made back in 1987. That description may be stretching it a bit, but I couldn’t resist.

The art direction in this movie is incredible, and the color blue (my favorite) is used quite a lot. There are other astonishingly breathtaking visuals like the floating mountains which looked quite real…. Damn it! I am running out of words to describe what I saw. You have to see it for yourself.

As Jake Sully, Worthington keeps him from being a complete cliché and infuses him with a nobility which has served him well in life. But one of the most welcome actors here is Sigourney Weaver who is appearing in her first Cameron movie since “Aliens.” Weaver plays Dr. Grace Augustine, the head of the Avatar program. While the military wants to use her work for their own manipulative methods, she uses them to help gain the trust of the Na’vi and study their world for peaceful and scientific purposes. She is the classic Cameron female character; tough as nails, controlling, and never ever a pushover Apparently, Weaver based her character on Cameron to an extent. To steal a line from “Up in The Air,” Dr. Grace Augustine may very well be James Cameron with a vagina.

Another classic Cameron female is played by Michelle Rodriguez, still looking as hot as she did in “Fast & Furious.” Her character of helicopter pilot Trudy Chacon is somewhat similar to Jeanette Goldstein’s character of Vasquez from “Aliens”; a badass soldier who is as tough as the men, maybe even tougher. She’s certainly a lot more morally conscious than the majority of the marines in the film, and Rodriguez makes sure you never forget that.

You also have Giovanni Ribisi playing Parker Selfridge (yes, his last name rhymes with selfish), the corporate manager in charge of the mining operation on Pandora. Like Paul Reiser’s character from “Aliens,” he is only interested in making a gigantic profit which will set him up for life. I love how Ribisi plays Parker as a pragmatic ass with absolutely no moral scruples whatsoever as this character is ever so gleeful about what is in store for him once this mineral is sufficiently mined. The way he sees it, what’s the big deal?

But one of the best performances comes from Stephen Lang who plays the brutal Colonel Miles Quaritch. Despite some of the ridiculous dialogue which comes out of his mouth, Lang completely makes Miles into a soldier you would be incredibly foolish to mess with. Like Tom Berenger in “Platoon,” his face is deeply scarred, and he does nothing to hide that. Miles simply sees it as an illustration of how nasty the moon of Pandora is. His flaw, however, is that he cannot see who the Na’vi really as his anger against them has long since powered by an everlasting fear which he cannot overcome.

Now let’s talk about the Na’vi, those big blue creatures who are tall enough to play for the Los Angeles Lakers or the San Antonio Spurs. They could have made or have broken “Avatar.” Cameron has said he thought about the story long before he began working on “Titanic,” and that he even thought about these characters when he was a kid. Now having an original race of people who speak their own language may work well on “Star Trek,” but in other shows and movies, it looks more comical and ridiculous than was originally intended. This is not the case here.

This brings me to the performance of Zoë Saldaña, who you may remember as Uhura in J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek.” She plays Neytiri, Princess of the Na’vi tribe Omaticaya. Neytiri is the first real Na’vi to come in contact with Jake Sully, and she later falls in love with him. In essence, a lot of “Avatar” rests on her performance, and she succeeds in making you believe in this race of beings to where you see them as more than just an amazing series of special effects. This ends up making it easier for other actors like Wes Studi and CCH Pounder to portray their characters without having to expend too much effort in helping you buy into these extra-terrestrials. Saldana sets up the groundwork, and everyone follows her from there.

“Avatar” deals with many of the same themes Cameron has dealt with throughout his career: military intervention into a foreign land, machines versus nature, love found between beings from different worlds or societies, how scientists and those with curious minds seek to understand the aliens and make peace with them, and how corporations will do anything for a profit. The parallels between what the military forces are doing in Pandora and our wars in Vietnam and Iraq, not to mention our current escalation in Afghanistan, are clear as day, and it does make the movie feel timely.

But one of the especially interesting things here is how Cameron utilizes a lot of the technology which was on display in his previous films. Those armed walkers Colonel Quaritch uses look to be an upgrade of the driver Weaver used in the climax of “Aliens” (which the Wachowski brothers all but ripped off for “The Matrix” sequels). The mind devices used to control the avatars looks a lot like the head pieces used in “Strange Days.” The scenes of humans interacting with otherworldly creatures bring to mind similar scenes from “The Abyss.” And you have characters who go from being antagonists to becoming the good guys (“Terminator 2” was a classic example of this). With all this in mind, I thought Cameron was running out of new ideas, but I love how he combines them all up to good use in “Avatar.”

But enough of me babbling about “Avatar.” Whatever weaknesses this movie may have are undone by its well-earned achievements. Once again, see this movie in a theater! I don’t care if you hate going to the movies. “Avatar” is a great and reinvigorating reminder of how sitting in a darkened movie theater can be so thrilling.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to find an IMAX theater playing this movie that is not sold out for weeks in advance. Seeing something like this on the silver screen once is never enough, ever.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Empire of Light’ – Sam Mendes’ Imperfect but Enthralling Love Letter to Cinema

One of the things which really excited me about “Empire of Light” is how it reunited director Sam Mendes with the God of all living cinematographers, Roger Deakins. Together, these two geniuses have given us visual wonders in “Revolutionary Road,” “Skyfall” and “1917.” And with “1917,” Deakins finally won his second Academy Award for Best Cinematography, so he and Mendes are a match made in cinematic heaven as far as I am concerned. As this movie itself, I had no idea what to expect, and that is just as well.

“Empire of Light” transports us back to the early 1980’s where we are taken to an English seaside town where a cinema is showing “The Blues Brothers” and “All That Jazz,” the latter which I still need to watch. We meet Hilary Small (Olivia Colman), one of the cinema’s managers who dutifully opens it up at the start of a new day and helps get everything ready for audience members eager to take in the latest feature presentation. But while she at first seems like a pleasant enough human being, we soon learn during a doctor’s appointment that she is taking lithium. It is not made entirely clear why she has been prescribed this form of medication, but it implies she has been through a wealth of emotional turmoil to where she needs some reigning in. But while the medication may be helping her, she admits to her doctor that she generally feels lifeless on a daily basis. And there’s also the cinema’s chief manager, Mr. Ellis (Colin Firth), who often invites her into his office to discuss professional matters which prove to be anything but professional.

And then we are introduced to the cinema’s newest employee, Stephen (Michael Ward), a young black man who has been applying to college with little success. Quickly, a relationship forms between him and Hilary as both feel a deep need for compassion which reality constantly denies them. But the times they are forced to live through constantly threatens to tear them apart in tragic ways, and their secrets may reveal more to the other than they can possibly ever hope to deal with.

The first thing I have to mention about “Empire of Light” is the performance of Olivia Colman. As always, she remains an acting dynamo as she takes Hilary from ecstatic highs to devastating lows as her character is forced to deal with a roller coaster of emotions she cannot easily control in the slightest. Every single moment she has onscreen is mesmerizing as she exhibits emotions not easily faked, and it makes Hilary’s journey from start to finish all the more emotionally extreme.

Then there is Michael Ward who portrays Stephen, the one who helps lift Hilary out of her mundane existence. Ward is wonderful in creating a character whose passion for things helps to make him all the more charismatic as he navigates through a time of cruel racism and missed opportunities which can easily bring anyone else down. He also makes the seemingly unlikely relationship between Stephen and Hilary all the more palpable as some may be quick to dismiss any possibility of something like this actually happening. What life has taught me is that anything is possible, so why shouldn’t this relationship be a distinct possibility?

And yes, there is Deakins’ cinematography which is as captivating as ever. While it may not be as orgasmic as the visuals he gave us in “Blade Runner 2049,” he succeeds in painting a lovely atmosphere of an English coastal town, the kind which ceased to exist decades ago, but whose history is still relevant in today’s world of Brexit and humanity going backwards. His work is also complimented beautifully by the wonderfully ambient film score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross who stand in for Mendes’ regular musical collaborator, Thomas Newman.

When it comes to the screenplay by Mendes, however, it does try to cover more ground than it possibly can to where the focus gets lost from time to time. Part of me wanted to see more of the racism of the time explored more deeply as the script only seemed to touch the surface of it. The same goes with Hilary’s mental illness as it felt like I only learned so much about what she has been through. Perhaps this was by Mendes’ design as he wanted to keep us at a certain distance, but had we known more, perhaps this part of the movie would have been more profound as a result.

As for the love “Empire of Light” has for movies in general, it does make for one great scene involving Toby Jones who plays the cinema’s dedicated projectionist. Norman. Hearing Jones describe the intricacies of feeding film through the projectors makes for some of this movie’s most memorable and magical moments as it reminded me of the time I worked at a cinema in my youth. It also leads to a scene later on which reminded me of the climatic one in “Cinema Paradiso,” one of the greatest movies ever made about movies.

I do have to say that this film does threaten to have as many endings as “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.” Mendes must have been searching endlessly for the right way to conclude this particular film of his. Did he succeed? Well, I’ll leave it to you to find out. All I can say is that when you think the movie is over, it isn’t.

Despite its flaws which keep it from being the perfect Mendes motion picture which “American Beauty” and “Skyfall” are, I found “Empire of Light” to be very enthralling. It captures an interesting period of history, and its love of movies and film is deeply felt. And when all is said and done, it proves that Olivia Coleman is worth the price of admission no matter what she is appearing. Heck, my dad would pay her to read the phone to him just as he would with Tilda Swinton. I’m serious!

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘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.