‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ – Our Friendly Neighborhood Web Slinger Thrills Us Yet Again

Just when I find myself getting increasingly weary of superhero/comic book movies, along comes another “Spider-Man’ installment. This friendly neighborhood web-slinger has succeeded in maintaining a high batting average on the silver screen, and this continues to be the case with “Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse” which has as much heart, soul and endless creativity as do the best entries in this franchise. I figured this would be the case as the opening credits proved to be a kaleidoscope of crazy colors and images much like the ones Gaspar Noe used in the opening credits of “Enter the Void.” And when a certain character says, “Let’s do things differently this time,” you better believe many will.

We catch up with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) who is ever so busy with his crime-fighting as his universe’s Spider-Man to where his parents keep wondering where he is most of the time. Never on time for his school counseling appointment or for the party celebrating his father’s promotion to police captain, he is still unable to tell mom and dad he really is Spider-Man as the truth of his alter-ego may put them in grave danger.

In addition, we meet up with Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) who is going through some serious issues in her own universe. A tragedy has devastated her, leaving her antisocial among her peers and her dad believing Spider-Woman committed murder to where J. Jonah Jameson is calling for her head on a stick. Even if Gwen does have the time to give her dad a big hug, there is still a distance between them which needs to be dealt with.

Eventually, Gwen reunites with Miles in his world, and it proves to be one of the most heartfelt moments as these two can relate to one another in ways they cannot with anyone and everyone else. But their reunion coincides with the arrival of Dr. Jonathan Ohnn, a former scientist who has since been transformed into the supervillain known as The Spot. Voiced by Jonathan Schwartzman, he starts off as a comedic character who pursues a life of crime as his transformation cannot allow to pursue a regular job. Granted, putting down on your resume that your body is covered with interdimensional portals which allow you travel through space and time may not get you that first interview. But as this film goes on, we come to see The Spot will prove to be one of Spider-Man’s most dangerous foes as his power grows and grows and grows.

Like any “Spider-Man” motion picture, “Across the Spider-Verse” deals with those heavy themes of tragedy and responsibility. As with its predecessor, this installment reminds of the loses Spider-Man and the other Spider-Men in the multiverse have suffered and of responsibilities they are forced to live up to where it is inevitable that any and every web-slinger is destined to suffer an unavoidable tragedy. But when the possibility of this is explained to Miles Morales, he won’t accept any such fate for himself or those he loves, and this leads him on a spectacular mission which will have the audience wondering if free will can prevail over predestination, an argument which never gets old.

“Across the Spider-Verse” plays on our knowledge of Peter Parker and of what he has experienced in the live action films, and we know of the sacrifices and challenges Peter has had to endure while fighting crime through his secret identity. While this animated film could have simply trodden over familiar ground, it instead deals with variations on this character both literally and figuratively speaking. As you can expect, there will be an endless number of Spider-Man incarnations on display, and it all gets to where you have to wonder not who could be Spider-Man, but who couldn’t be him (or her, or they, or them, or it).

The animation here is incredible, and I swear there were moments where, if you look in the background, it seemed like live-action elements were added in to where it seems seamless. The visuals are also given a depth which shows in scenes with Miles and Gwen as they stand on top of tall buildings and structures overlooking the crazy city they live in. Seriously, I almost got a case of vertigo looking at these heights, and I never an animated movie to make me feel this way.

As for the action sequences, they are nothing short of spectacular and exciting as Miles is forced to fight off hundreds, maybe even thousands of Spider-Men while determined to make certain changes the multiverse will not easily allow. All of this is aided by the terrific and propulsive music score by Daniel Pemberton.

The entire voice cast is fantastic. Shameik Moore continues to do great work as Miles Morales, but the real standout for me was Hailee Steinfeld who continues to remind us what a wonderful talent she has proven to be following her star-making performance in “True Grit.” As Gwen Stacy, she gives the character’s animated form a true emotional depth which makes her actions and decisions all the more enthralling to take in. Schwartzman succeeds in taking The Spot from being a joke of a burglar to a infinitely dangerous villain who is determined to make Spider-Man suffer to his last breath. It is great fun to have Jake Johnson back as Peter B. Parker as his Spider-Man is now a dad and still a gas to be around. Issa Rae makes her Spider-Woman of Jessica Drew a rough and tough version of the web-slinger whose dedication to her job leaves no room for doubt or uncertainty. And when it comes to Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez, they have wonderful chemistry and many warm and funny scenes together as Miles’ parents, Jefferson and Rio.

Are there any problems with “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse?” Well, I didn’t catch all the dialogue being uttered to where I cannot wait for the 4K/Blu-ray release so I can rewatch the film with closed captions. Even with a running time of 140 minutes, I would have liked for things to slow down a bit so that I could take in more of the action and story. While movies these days tend to be longer than they should be, this one could have been even longer if it wanted to.

Also, there are scenes where we see Miles and Gwen standing upside down on very tall buildings. Now I know Spider-Man has special webs on their hands and feet which allows them to climb buildings, but these two are wearing shoes which makes their ability to hang out upside down rather impossible. I mean, can their webbings penetrate the soles of their designer shoes? Besides, Miles has a pair of Air Jordans, and those shoes are never cheaply made.

There is a lot more I would love to tell you about “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” but I am not about to spoil any of its surprises. Besides, there are so many easter eggs to take in to where a second viewing is completely mandatory. Spider-Man has always been one of my very favorite comic book characters this side of Batman, and I am happy to say his adventures are still thrilling even as comic-book movies are starting suffer a bit. When it comes to Miles Morales and his alter-ego, however, there is no stopping him. It makes me very excited for what will come next, and there is still more to look forward to in the next year.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

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

Your enjoyment level for “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” will depend on how funny or clever you find its main protagonist, played by Zachary Levi. Personally speaking, he is an actor I’ve never been a fan of, especially in these films.  I found his performance incredibly irritating, silly and annoying. I understand he’s trying to portray a silly high schooler as an adult who is learning how to be mature and deal with his new superpowers.  However, I just found his performance to be very grating after a while. He’s very over the top.  I’m all for a superhero film where they have some fun as it doesn’t have to be so dark and dreary throughout. There is room for every type of superhero film out there, and I fully respect and get that.  However, he is not the right actor for balancing the goofy scenes along with the more serious action sequences.

Our film opens up in a museum in Athens, Greece where two of the three daughters of the Titan Atlas break in to steal the Wizard’s broken staff from the previous film. Billy Batson (Zachary Levi) is trying to keep his family together as he’s about to turn eighteen and is worried he will be thrown out of the house as his foster parents, Victor and Rosa Vasquez (Cooper Andrews and Marta Milans), are struggling to keep it all together financially.  He’s also suffering from a case of imposter syndrome. In essence, he’s insecure and also struggling to figure out his place in the world. Can he keep his “Shazamily” of foster siblings together, as they are maturing and developing their own interests and unique personalities?

However, he has to act fast as two of the daughters of the Titan Atlas, played by Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu, have captured his brother Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) along with a newly repaired Wizard staff.  Early on, they are also dealing with controversy for their crime fighting methods in Philadelphia.  In fact, they are now known as The Philly Fiascos thanks to some of their mishaps, even though their hearts were in the right place. As mentioned previously, the family has a lot on its mind.  For Freddy Freeman, before he was captured, he had a crush on a girl named Anne, played by Rachel Zegler. Pedro Peña (Jovan Armand) is keeping a secret he’s not sure he’s ready to share with the world quite yet.

Darla Dudley (Faithe Herman) is trying to accept growing up while still being a kid at heart. Eugene Choi (Ian Chen) is preoccupied, and Mary Bromfield (Grace Caroline Currey) wants to get into college and is focusing on her studies.  They must come together as a family and put their individual interests aside in order to conquer The Three Daughters of the Titan Atlas. They work better when they are together, but it is important they get on the same page and focus on the task at hand. From here on out, we get a lot of explosions, special effects, bad jokes, and a big finale.  The film was never boring and it kept my attention for its over two-hour running time.  However, it just fell flat for me because of Levi’s performance and just the fact that the film lost its sense of direction near the end and went all over the map.

I’m completely aware that sequels are part of Hollywood when a film is successful, especially when we are talking about a superhero film.  People will flock to them.  There is a built-in audience already.  The “Shazam!” films have been directed by David F. Sandberg, and I was a huge fan of his previous two films: “Lights Out” and “Annabelle: Creation.”  The film looks really good, as he has a keen visual sense.  However, I didn’t feel the heart of the film as much as I would have liked, and it’s a big problem here.  I liked it better than the first one, but when the lead actor is such a ham on screen and so phony and fake with his line readings and performance, it really takes you out of the story. I liked everyone else and thought they did a really good job, but once it becomes a bloated mess and Billy Batson turns into a one-line machine, the film just didn’t work for me.  If you liked the first one, you will like the second one.  If you didn’t, there isn’t anything here that is going to change your mind or convert you to this character and this franchise.

* * out of * * * *

4K Info: “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” is released on a two-disc 4K and Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  It has a running time of 130 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of action, violence and language. The film comes with a digital copy to be redeemed as well.

Video Info: We are treated to a beautiful Dolby Vision transfer here that really stands out and pops.  The film looks beautiful on 4K, especially the action sequences.  Even though they can be overdone and unnecessary at times, I can admit when they look beautiful. My issue is more of the fact they don’t hold as much weight when the emotional heart of the film isn’t present.  The darks set the mood when it needs to, and the film is also filled with color and light when it calls for it.

Audio Info: The Dolby Atmos track is also really, really good here.  With a film that relies heavily on action, you worry about the film being so loud that it takes you out of the film.  Here, thanks to the Dolby Atmos track, it’s never too loud or soft.  It’s perfect throughout the entire duration of the film.

Special Features:

SHAZAM! Let’s Make a Sequel – featurette

The Rock of Eternity: Decked Out – featurette

The Shazamily Reunion – featurette

The Zac Effect – featurette

The Sisterhood of the Daughters of Atlas – featurette

Pay By Play: Scene Breakdown – featurettes

    Ben Franklin bridge collapse

    Rooftop battle of the gods

    Unicorn ride in Philadelphia

    Epic showdown at the baseball stadium

The Mythology of Shazam! – featurette

Director’s Audio Commentary with David F. Sandberg

Deleted Scenes, Alternate & Extended Scenes

Should You Buy It?

As a 4K disc, it looks and sounds out of this world. I’m a big fan of what Warner Brothers does with its 4K releases. They really place a high importance on giving their big screen movies a proper release on 4K with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.  There are also a lot of special features here, so if you enjoy “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” you will enjoy this disc and its special features. If I’m grading this movie overall, it’s just average.  It was watchable and entertaining at times, but it’s a film I have no interest in rewatching, and I don’t think it will have great repeat value.  There are rare moments where the heart of the film is on display, and I liked those moments. The main struggle here is the balance between comedy, action and drama.  The film doesn’t quite pull this task off successfully during its over two-hour running time.  When it does, it’s good fun.  When it doesn’t, it’s very bland and uninteresting.  This is a film in search of a tone.  If you are a fan of this franchise, you will be happy with the 4K release.  If you are watching this for the first time or didn’t enjoy the first one, this sequel is not going to win you over.

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

‘A Good Person’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

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

I’m an emotional, sensitive and empathic person, and I tend to seek out films which will make me think, move me to tears and tell a narrative that resonates with me.  However, I have a good barometer for films that are trying too hard to tug at my heart strings and doing just a little too much to get an emotional reaction out of me.  When you try to watch a movie or two a day, you can usually figure out which direction a movie is going to go either from its trailer or by where the film is taking its audience. “A Good Person,” directed by Zach Braff, started out incredibly promising until its wild and heavy-handed third act.

“A Good Person” stars the always lovely and talented Florence Pugh as Allison, a young woman who is about to get married to the love of her life, Nathan (Chinaza Uche).  They are the perfect couple and the film opens with their engagement party where they are at their happiest.  But then things spiral out of control for Allison when she gets into a car accident with her fiancé’s sister and husband in the car. She took her eyes off the road for one second to check Google Maps, and while she survived, they both perished.  This sends her down a path of becoming addicted to OxyContin to deal with the physical and emotional pain of the car accident.

Allison cuts her hair one day and is making rash and impulsive decisions in her life, which worries her mother, played by Molly Shannon.  She hits up an old friend for pills, former classmates, and even curses out the pharmacist.  Finally, she decides to go to a meeting, which is being led by Simone (Zoe Lister-Jones). While there, she runs into Nathan’s father, Daniel, played by Morgan Freeman.  Allison is hesitant to stay, as she knows the pain and hurt she caused his family, but he insists that she stay.  Daniel has his hands full as he’s a recovering alcoholic who is now in charge of taking care of his granddaughter, Ryan (Celeste O’Connor), after her parents were killed in the car accident.

The best thing about “A Good Person” is the back-and-forth interactions between Pugh and Freeman.  When you have actors of this caliber, it’s best to just stay out of their way and let them do their thing.  Freeman plays an ex-cop who never really knew how to be there for his son Nathan growing up.  He used to beat him, which has caused a lot of trauma and resentment in Nathan toward his father. The two of them barely speak and don’t have much of a relationship.  For Allison, she’s trying to deal with the grief and guilt of what she has done to Daniel, as she has taken his daughter away from him.  However, he could use some help when it comes to figuring out how to talk to a sixteen-year-old teenage girl about safe sex when her parents are now deceased.

I really enjoyed the first hour and a half of “A Good Person.”  I thought Pugh really, really went for it with her performance.  She’s an actress who really immerses herself in her characters.  Physically and mentally, this is a fantastic performance.  She looks, sounds and acts like an addict. Freeman is also very good, as he usually is, at portraying many different emotions throughout as he’s trying to be a grandfather, deal with his own demons, and also forgive Allison.  Thanks to the two lead performances and a fast-moving plot, I was really enjoying “A Good Person.”  Sadly, the film takes a wild and crazy turn in the third act, which really sent things spiraling off the rails.

Yes, this is a drama, and you expect certain emotional moments and sequences to be displayed on screen.  In “A Good Person,” it felt forced and like writer/director Braff had an idea for a movie and the right cast, but didn’t know what to say at the end or how he wanted to end it.  Instead, it turns into a cheesy soap opera, and he, sadly, wastes the performances of his two leads and his supporting cast.  The film is also about 15 to 20 minutes too long.  Once again, the drama felt forced at the end and it seemed like they were really trying for an emotional and powerful ending.  Instead, I could see right through the fact they were trying to make me feel something instead of letting it happen organically.  The film didn’t need to try so hard and throw so much into the last 30-40 minutes of the film.

* * out of * * * *

Blu-Ray Info: “A Good Person” is released on a single-disc Blu-ray from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  It is rated R for drug abuse, language throughout, and some sexual references. The film has a running time of 128 minutes.  It comes with a digital copy of the film as well.

Video Info: The 1080p High-Definition transfer is very, very solid.  It’s a clean looking film with a green tint that really translated itself well to the material. Visually, Zach Braff did a great job behind the camera.  It’s his script which really needed work.

Audio Info: The DTS-HD MA: English 5.1 audio track is also really good for this film.  I did feel like Zach Braff relied on music a little too much throughout the course of this film to get the audience to feel something. I enjoy music in a film, but it needs to be properly placed and not shoved down our throats. There is also a Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio track. Subtitles are included in English, French, and Spanish.

Special Features:


Should You Buy It?

It’s always disappointing when I want to like a movie and don’t.  I know this might sound like a rather simplistic approach to film viewing, but I had high hopes for this one. I’m still a huge fan of 2004’s “Garden State,” and I think Zach Braff is a talented director.  When it comes to his writing, I think he can be a little too earnest.  He means well and his heart is in the right place, but sometimes it just seems like he can’t keep himself from going a little too far. I didn’t hate the film and I enjoyed a good portion of it, but it was just a little too sappy for me which is saying something. The film looks and sounds good on Blu-ray, so it’s not a huge disappointment they didn’t give it a 4K release.  There are no special features on this disc at all.  I think it’s worth watching for the performances of its two leads, but I don’t think it’s a film you need to own.  If you see it on Max or at Redbox, it’s worth watching.  However, this is not a film I need to watch again. This is a case of two performances which deserved a better script.

**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 Wrath of Becky’ Fearlessly Outdoes the Original

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

I vaguely remember watching 2020’s “Becky” when it was released through various digital platforms.  Besides the brutal violence and seeing Kevin James as a Neo-Nazi, the film didn’t really leave a lasting impression on me as a viewer. When I heard they were going to make a sequel, “The Wrath of Becky,” I was intrigued for two reasons: Lulu Wilson and Seann William Scott.  Wilson is a tremendous young actress who shows maturity beyond her years, and Scott has shown a knack recently for playing chilling and unsettling villains.  I figured it was worth giving it another go around, and I’m happy to report “The Wrath of Becky” is lightyears better than the first film.

When the film introduces us to Becky a few years later, she has an edge to her after the traumatic events of the previous film.  She’s sarcastic, matter-of-fact, and she doesn’t suffer fools lightly.  She has been bounced around from group home to group home. Eventually, she decides to rent out a room with an older African-American woman who takes in strangers and is dealing with her own sense of loss. Her name is Elena, played by Denise Burse. One night while waitressing, Becky runs into a group of men who call themselves the Noble Men.  They are a white supremacist militia group with bad intentions.  After she spills coffee on one of them, they follow her back to Elena’s house, where they proceed to kill Elena and take Becky’s dog Diego.

Now, Becky is looking for two things: revenge and to get her dog back. The film uses an interesting technique where it will show the audience a violent sequence of what she is hoping to do, and then what she actually does. They use voiceovers for this as well, which was a nice touch.  She communicates with the audience and lets us know what she’s thinking.  They don’t overdo this, thankfully.  The Noble Men are brought back to the house of one of their leaders named Darryl, played brilliantly by Seann William Scott.  Scott and Wilson are the stars here, and Scott knows how to be unnerving and very intense without trying too hard. I remember him in a film called “Bloodline,” and he crushed it in that film.  He’s really, really good at playing these low-key, calm, and sadistic villains.

The rest of the group consists of DJ (Aaron Dalla Villa), Anthony (Michael Sirow), and Sean (Matt Angel). Twig (Courtney Gains) is already with Darryl at the house.  They have members all over the world, and they are looking to take down Senator Hernandez (Gabriella Piazza) at an upcoming town hall event.  First, they have to deal with extreme girl scout Becky, and she is not one to back down from a fight, especially since they have her dog and they killed the one living person in the world she actually liked.  From here, it’s a rather straight-forward film with Becky taking on these misogynist, hateful, and narrow-minded men.  The characters are a little too on the nose at times, politically, but it works as a film like “The Wrath of Becky” is one where you are going to sit back and watch Becky destroy bad people in creative and brutal ways.

The film is not shy about its violence.  It really goes for it.  As with any sequel, especially one which relies on violence, they really up the ante here.  They were also smart enough to keep the film under 90 minutes.  We are reintroduced to Becky, find out what she’s up to, meet the villains, and then it’s time for the mayhem.  It’s a formula, yes, but it’s a formula that works because Wilson is terrific at playing Becky.  She’s a badass chick and easy to root for as the heroine.  She also has a worthy adversary in Seann William Scott. The scenes with the two of them together are just brilliant.

In the end, you know what you are getting with “The Wrath of Becky” and what you have signed up for as an audience member.  I could have done without the dog being involved, not because it offended me, but because it seemed to take a page out of other films, most recently “John Wick.”  We have seen people try to avenge their dog when it has been captured or killed. The ending seems to hint that there might be another film or two still left in the “Becky” franchise. If they keep the budget low and stick to one location, which is basically what they did here, I see no reason why they can’t continue to make more of these films. Wilson is a star, and she deserves her own franchise. I look forward to seeing her take on more villains portrayed by quality actors in the future.

Should You See It?

The film is being released on May 26.  I know there are a lot of movies to choose from at the box office right now.  “The Wrath of Becky” is a nice change of pace, though, from the usual fare of blockbusters and franchises.  It’s bloody, gory and very, very entertaining.  As stated in my review, this film knows what it needs to do, it stays out of the way of its actors, and it’s a ton of fun. I truly enjoyed seeing Lulu Wilson and Seann William Scott in a battle of wits.  It’s way better than 2020’s “Becky,” as it moves at a faster pace, gets right to the meat of the matter, and it doesn’t hold back with its violent, in-your-face approach.  I think it would be a lot of fun to watch on the big screen.  It’s in limited release, but you can find it at a theater near you.  I don’t think you will be disappointed if you enjoy blood, guts and have a sense of humor.

* * * out of * * * *

‘Superman’ Five-Film Collection on 4K Review

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

The idea of being a superhero is something which appeals to people all across the world.  They want the chance to start out as an ordinary individual and transform themselves into something special and magical.  1978’s “Superman” is a perfect example of this, especially with its leading man, Christopher Reeve.  It’s an iconic role and performance which continues to stand the test of time.  It also achieved the rare feat of being both a financial and critical success.  When that happens in Hollywood, everyone is pleased as punch. It’s the magic formula Hollywood is always trying to achieve as they want to do quality work which is meaningful to an audience while also making a lot of money.

There are so many things which make “Superman” great.  Of course, as mentioned previously, you have the tremendous performance by the late, great Christopher Reeve. However, you also need a really, really effective villain, and it’s hard to find a better Hollywood villain than the legendary Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor.  He oozes with charisma, personality, and you love to root against him. As far as the supporting cast, it is filled with some of the greatest working actors and actresses in Hollywood history, such as Marlon Brando, Margot Kidder, Glenn Ford, Jackie Cooper, Terence Stamp, Ned Beatty, Jack O’Halloran, Maria Schell and Sarah Douglas.

It also doesn’t hurt when you have a director like Richard Donner behind the camera as well.  He knows how to pace the film, allow his actors room to breathe, and he is also respectful of the source material. There was also the magnificent score by the iconic John Williams. When you have all of the right pieces in place like Donner did such as the script, the actors and the budget, you have to stay on track and basically not screw it up. He was just the right man for this big budget affair.  During its release, it had the highest budget for a film at the time, coming in at $55 million.  It’s funny to hear that number now, considering how much budgets have increased in Hollywood since then.

What speaks to me about the first “Superman” film is the idea of having a double life and people not knowing who you really are.  During the day you are Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter, but you also have the ability to be Superman.  It shows we all have something special inside of us.  It is up to us to really find that, harness it, and use it for good.  Superman is your all-American, clean cut, good guy.  He’s very likable and effortlessly charming.  On paper, this idea might sound ludicrous, but because the filmmakers took it seriously and had the right actors and participants involved, they really had lightning in a bottle.  Even to this day, the film holds up incredibly well.  When you see the special effects, they were really ahead of their time and they helped pave the way for a lot of the effects we see today, only they are now taken up a notch. Most importantly, this film has a big heart and a big soul attached to it. This is why the film is beloved by so many.

With this tremendous release from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment, we are also treated to “Superman II” in two different versions. We get the original theatrical cut by Richard Lester and the Richard Donner Cut on 4K. To this day, people still debate which version they like better and which is more worth watching.  If you ask me, it’s best to watch both versions.  I see things in Donner’s film I like more than in Lester’s and vice versa, but overall, I felt like Lester’s version was a much more polished, easy to follow, and complete film. Donner’s version is flawed with moments of greatness, and it deserves to be seen. Thanks to this set, you can watch both versions, which, as stated previously, I highly encourage you to do as I love a good film discussion.  Film is subjective and there is really no right or wrong answer. 

In “Superman II,” Mario Puzo is back once along with fellow screenwriters, David and Leslie Newman, again with a really good story, and this is a great thing for the audience.  All three really know how to flesh out a story and create unique and interesting characters. It doesn’t hurt when you have actors like Beatty, Kidder and Hackman completely invested in the material. While not as good as the first one, and it’s rare for a sequel to be as good as its predecessor, it’s still a very, very good movie. There is some great humor here, and even in a superhero movie where the stakes are high and we are in a fictional world, some levity is very much appreciated!  Sometimes it is nice to have a different vision and a new voice in a franchise while also staying true to what made the first film successful.  Richard Lester was not put in an ideal situation, but he made it work, and you have to give him credit for that.

By “Superman III,” it seemed like the magic was starting to disappear, and they totally shifted the focus of the franchise into a campy, goofy and comedic realm which really rubbed audiences the wrong way.  I understand they were going for something different, and they brought in Richard Pryor, but the script, the jokes and the material are just really, really bad. There is no denying that Pryor is a funny man with great comedic timing, but his abilities didn’t lend themselves to this film franchise. Overall, “Superman III” was doomed because of behind-the-scenes issues, script issues, and a film in search of the right tone.  The filmmakers seemed to have lost the plot all together as well as their love for the character and the franchise.  When a franchise has success, many times it is how the filmmakers handle that success which defines how it will carry on and continue.  It is clear they didn’t know how to handle success here.

It didn’t get any better with “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.” It was so poorly made and received that they didn’t make another Superman film until 2006. As is often the case with sequels, they went cheap.  Even though Hackman returns and Kidder receives more screen time, this film was dead on arrival.  The plot is incoherent, messy, and just plain dumb.  It was a cash-grab sequel, and when you are focused on money over quality work, you end up with “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.”  It’s a very frustrating film and incredibly hard to follow. As you can see with the “Superman” franchise, you have the law of diminishing returns.

4K Info: The “Superman” 5-Film Collection 1978-1987 is in a terrific box set with all the films getting their own individual dual 4K case which also includes a Blu-ray version of the them. I was really happy they didn’t stack the discs in the set here, as that is always a pet peeve of mine. I was also very happy they gave each film its day in court with artwork and its own individual dual case. “Superman” was previously released on 4K, but this is the first time the other four films have been released in this format.  You also a digital code for all of the films as well.

Video Info: If you already own the first “Superman” 4K, please know they have not added anything new to it here.  It’s the same “Superman” 4K that had been released in its standalone edition.  That being said, it’s hard not to be stunned and blown away by the beautiful Dolby Vision look of the original film.  I had not previously owned the first “Superman” film, so I had no qualms about there not being anything new here. It’s just something to keep in mind for those who already own it on 4K. Overall, this is far and away the best these five films have ever looked on home video.  They look sharp, clean and free of grain or mess. They have cleaned these films up very, very nicely.  I was very impressed with these transfers. Warner Brothers has really been knocking it out of the park with their releases this year during their 100-year anniversary celebration, and this “Superman” box set is no exception.

Audio Info: We are treated to Dolby Atmos on all five films which is fantastic news!  I am a huge fan of Dolby Atmos, and the sound is such a vital part of these films.  The audio sounds crystal clear, concise, and it comes in at just the right pitch without being too loud or in-your-face.  I’m always happy when I can leave it on one volume setting and still get the same impact throughout. That was the case with all five films. They also all come with subtitles in French, English and Spanish as well.

Special Features:

“Superman: The Movie” Special Features:

  Commentary by Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spangler

  The Making of Superman – vintage featurette

  Superman and the Mole-Men – vintage featurette

  Super-Rabbit – 1943 WB cartoon

  Snafuperman – 1944 WB cartoon

  Stupor Duck – 1956 WB cartoon

  TV Spot

  Teaser Trailer

  Theatrical Trailer

‘Superman II” Special Features:

    Commentary by Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler

    The Making of “Superman II” – 1980 TV Special

    Superman’s Soufflé – Deleted Scene

    First Flight

    Fleischer Studios’ Superman vintage cartoons:


        The Mechanical Monster

        Billion Dollar Limited

        The Arctic Giant

        The Bulleteers

        The Magnetic Telescope

        Electric Earthquake


        Terror on the Midway

    Theatrical Trailer

“Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut” Special Features:

    Commentary by Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz

    Introduction by Richard Donner – featurette

    Superman II: Restoring the Vision – featurette

    Deleted Scenes

        Lex and Ms. Teschmacher Head North

        Lex and Ms. Teschmacher Head South

        The Villains Enter the Fortress

        He’s All Yours, Boys

        Clarke and Jimmy

        Lex’s Gateway

    Famous Studios vintage cartoons:



        Eleventh Hour

        Destruction, Inc.

        The Mummy Strikes

        Jungle Drums

        The Underground World

        Secret Agent

“Superman III” Special Features:

    Commentary by Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler

    The Making of “Superman III” – 1983 TV Special

    Deleted Scenes:

        Save My Baby

        To the Rescue

        Making Up

        Going to See the Boss

        Hatching the Plan

        The Con

        Rooftop Ski

        Boss Wants This to Go

        Superman Honored

        Gus’ Speech

        Hanging Up on Brad

    Theatrical Trailer

“Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” Special Features:

    Commentary by Mark Rosenthal

    Superman 50th Anniversary Special – 1988 TV Special

    Deleted Scenes:

        Clark’s Morning

        Jeremy’s Letter

        Superman’s Visit

        Nuclear Man’s Prototype

        Metropolis After Hours

        Lex Ponders

        Flying Sequence (Extended Scene)

        Battle in Smallville

        Battle in the U.S.S.R.

        Nuclear Arms Race

        Superman’s Sickness

        Red Alert

        By My Side

        Lark and Lacy Say Goodbye

        No Borders

    Theatrical Trailer

Should You Buy It?

Last time I checked, this set is going for about $90, which is a great price for five films. Granted, you are really paying for “Superman,” “Superman II” and “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut,” so you need to own all of the Christopher Reeve “Superman” films if you are a completist like myself. I’ve heard a lot of people in the film community complain about some of the special features from other releases not being included on this set but they are included in the other Blu-ray releases.  This did not bother me as there are still plenty of special features to shift through here. I’m happy they included the Blu-ray discs for all of the films and didn’t just include the 4K’s.  The good films in this franchise leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.  When films make me feel this way and put a smile on my face, I’m a happy camper.  There is also something to enjoy about the total and complete absurdity of the bad films as well.  If you have a sense of humor and come in with the right mindset, you can enjoy them on the level of they are aiming at.  All the films come with Dolby Atmos tracks, which is a great perk.  My one minor nitpick is the fact that not all these films include Dolby Vision except for the first one.  However, in 2023, when physical media is hard to come by in stores but very much appreciated by us hardcore film historians and lovers, I don’t want to be too overly critical or negative over the little things.  Warner Brothers and other studios are really going all out to preserve important pieces of cinematic history.  We shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.  This set comes highly recommended, and I enjoyed revisiting these films in 4K.  It gave me a whole new appreciation for these films, Christopher Reeve’s performance, and the intense feelings of happiness and joy the first two (three if you are counting the Richard Donner cut) films brought to me. You can’t put a price tag on that. This set comes highly recommended!

* * * ½ out of * * * *

**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.

‘Creed III’ Movie and 4K UHD Review

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

I saw “Creed III” in theaters when it came out in March, and I walked away very impressed by the directorial debut of Michael B. Jordan. Even though we were only three months into the new year, I felt it was an early candidate for one of the best films of 2023. I enjoyed his creative and inventive approach to filmmaking, the tremendous acting throughout the film, and the way it was paced just perfectly.  Here we are, almost half-way through the year, and I feel even stronger about “Creed III.”  It really surpassed any and all expectations I had for the film, and it also shows the “Rocky/Creed” franchise is in very good hands. Much like the “Scream” franchise did with “Scream 6,” it proved you can leave a key player or two from the franchise behind and not miss a beat if you have your heart in the right place, a good script, and you forge your own path while also remembering the pulse of the franchise.

I think by now it is common knowledge that Sylvester Stallone is not in “Creed III.”  Stallone expressed his reasons why in interviews, and while I would have enjoyed him in this film, even if it was only in a minor role, I can’t say he was missed.  I say this as a huge fan of Stallone and his contributions to the “Rocky/Creed” franchise.  It says more about the fact that Jordan took the bull by the horns and really ran with it when it came to “Creed III.”  He’s in front of and behind the camera here, and from what he showed me as a director, I can’t wait to see what he does with his next project.  He has a keen visual sense and tremendous style without losing the heart and emotional weight of the film.

“Creed III” opens by showing us a young Adonis Creed hanging out with his friend from his group home, Damian Anderson.  They are like brothers to one another, and Damian looks out for Adonis.  Damian is on the rise as a young up and comer until he finds himself in prison for pulling out a gun while defending a young Adonis.  Adonis ran away and never faced any jail time.  Damian, on the other hand, spent almost two decades in prison and saw his chance go by the wayside.  Adonis is ready for retirement after winning his final fight and leaving as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.  He’s now a family man with a beautiful house, wife, and young daughter.

Adonis is also running his own gym with the help of Little Duke (Wood Harris) and helping promote a fight for the world heavyweight champion Felix “El Guerrero” Chavez (José Benavidez Jr.) against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu).  On his way out of the gym one day, he runs into Damian (Jonathan Majors) who is out of prison and looking to make up for lost time.  He wants to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world, as he was a top prospect and a Golden Gloves champion before he ended up in prison. Adonis agrees to let him hang around the gym and spar with Felix, but he feels uneasy about having him around and wonders what his true intentions are, especially after all these years.

As a matter of fact, Mary-Anne (Phylicia Rashad) is not too keen about Damian being around, as she remembers some of the trouble he and Adonis would get into as youngsters.  Adonis is also dealing with parenthood as his hearing-impaired daughter Amara, played perfectly by Mila Davis-Kent, is having trouble expressing herself in school. When she is being bullied by another student, she resorts to violence instead of working things out in a more peaceful way.  This is very troubling to her mother Bianca, played by the lovely Tessa Thompson. She is looking to raise their daughter to express her emotions in a more productive way instead of resorting to violence.  For Bianca, she’s been adjusting to her career as a producer. While she enjoys it, she also misses performing and doing her own thing.  However, she must also be protective of her hearing as she doesn’t want to cause further damage.  She’s also noticing Adonis is pulling away from her and that something is bothering him.  It’s clear he has unresolved guilt and anger from his past with Damian. Until he deals with those feelings, he will never be able to move forward in his life and will be stuck in the past.

I have to give major credit to the women of “Creed III” from Rashad to Thompson to Davis-Kent. They are attempting to help Adonis see the forest from the trees and learn that it’s okay for him to open up about his past and talk about his regrets and his pain.  It’s not good for him to bottle it all up inside.  The two main male characters played by Jordan and Majors are also terrific together on screen. Jordan is fantastic at expressing his emotions on his face and not overacting.  That being said, he knows when to tap into an emotion, anger, and turmoil when the scene calls for it. His facials here are terrific, and he knows how to tap into whatever the screenplay needs out of him. Majors reminded me and others of a young Mike Tyson. He will do whatever it takes to win, and he is physically imposing and carries a tremendous presence on screen.  When he’s on screen, you can’t take your eyes off him.

 For a film which is nearly two hours long, there is rarely a dull moment.  There is something dramatic which occurs in the film (no spoilers) that seemed to get glossed over and moved on from very quickly. It seemed rather unnecessary, and that is my only gripe with the film.  As with any “Rocky” or “Creed” movie, the best scenes are not in the ring.  The best scenes are the characters talking to one another, figuring out their inner conflict, and dealing with the past and the present.  Yes, it’s a boxing movie, but the boxing ring serves as a therapeutic canvas for them to work out their pain.  That being said, the boxing scenes are beautifully shot and are the best kind I’ve seen in a boxing film in a long time. Jordan makes some really interesting choices as a director, and they worked out perfectly for him.

“Creed III” is a feel-good film with a big heart behind it.  It has a great soundtrack with some real bangers on it.  It also has some fantastic acting from everyone in the cast.  There isn’t a bad performance to be found here.  The stakes also seem very high throughout.  There is an urgency here. For a first-time director, this is a very, very impressive debut.  I can see them carrying on the “Creed” franchise with Jordan working both behind-the-scenes and in front of the camera.  He really hit a home run here, and I loved this movie from start to finish.

 * * * ½ out of * * * *

4K Info: “Creed III” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  It is rated PG-13 for intense sports action, violence and some strong language. It has a running time of 116 minutes.  The 4K combo pack also comes with a digital code for the film.

Video Info: I loved the way this film looked in 4K.  Warner Brothers has become one of the top studios for 4K releases, and they do not disappoint here with “Creed III.”  I’m always happy when a film gets the Dolby Vision treatment, and this film is spectacular looking. We get a detailed, clean, and smooth look with dark darks to set the mood for the emotional trauma Creed is dealing with inside of him.  This film really, really pops on 4K.  Dolby Vision and Warner Brothers are always a match made in heaven.  I truly was impressed by this 4K transfer and how it lends itself to the film.

Audio Info: More good news—we also get a Dolby Atmos track! For a film like this with great music and intense boxing action, you have to have a good Atmos track.  The Atmos track makes the film sound absolutely perfect.  Warner Brothers really did the right thing by “Creed III,” and I’m very thankful for that.

Special Features:

 Michael B. Jordan: In the Ring/Behind the Camera – Featurette

There’s No Enemy Like the Past: Donnie and Dame – Featurette

Deleted Scenes

Should You Buy It?

If you saw it in theaters like I did, I’m happy to report it holds up very, very well on a second viewing.  It’s one of the reasons why I love to watch a movie in the theater and then at home.  It’s two totally different viewing experiences, and you pick up on certain things you might have missed initially.  It was actually better on a second viewing.  I highly recommend you pick this film up on its release date on 4K.  It is truly the best way to watch this great film.  With Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, Warner Brothers really did a magnificent job of putting this film together for a great home-viewing experience.  The supplements are a little light, and I would have liked a commentary with director/actor Michael B. Jordan, but still, this is a day-one purchase. I’m not sure how the rest of the year will play out, but this film is still one of the best of 2023, in my opinion.  I loved the powerful performances, incredible emotion, ingenious boxing sequences, and how much fun this movie was. I highly recommend “Creed III” as a movie to proudly own on 4K.  You won’t be disappointed.

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

‘Master Gardener’ – Paul Schrader Does Some Meticulous Gardening

Alright! We are back in Paul Schrader land with his latest film, “Master Gardener.” Just as with “Taxi Driver” and “First Reformed” among other films, it focuses on a loner who keeps a journal and is struggling to deal with a past which was never less than traumatizing. Some directors tend to make the same film over and over again, but I always enjoy seeing Schrader doing so as he always has an interesting angle on this, and “Master Gardener” is no exception.

Joel Edgerton stars as Narvel Roth, an infinitely meticulous horticulturist who is employed at Gracewood Gardens, a beautiful estate owned by Norma Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver). Judging from the blooming flowers featured in the opening credits, this is an individual who takes his job ever so seriously as he clearly revels in bringing a garden and the flowers in it to exquisite life. There is even a scene where Narvel invites his fellow workers to smell the soil they have been working on endlessly. Watching this, it made me wish this film came with one of those scratch and sniff cards like those Odorama cards John Waters used for “Polyester.” I would love to have smelled what these characters were taking in as it might just give new meaning to the word “organic.”

Norma, who it turns out is having an affair of sorts with Narvel, has invited her wayward step-niece, Maya (Quintessa Swindell), to become his apprentice. While Maya may be a wealth of trouble at home, she slides into her new job with what seems like relative ease. But, as you can expect, nothing will stay sane for our main characters as revelations of who they are will truly eventually come to the surface whether everyone is prepared for it or not.

Looking at Narvel and hearing how he talks, it is tempting to think he has been a dignified individual since birth, but he eventually takes off his shirt to reveal two things: he has spent a lot of time at the gym, and he has a plethora of tattoos of swastikas and other neo-Nazi images covering his body which indicate he has had a racist past which he is trying to get past. It would have been enough if Narvel had just one swastika tattooed on him to indicate he was once a white supremacist, but the fact he has so many reminded me of a scene from Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” remake in which Robert Mitchum looked over Robert De Niro’s heavily tattooed body and said, “Jesus! I don’t know whether to look at him or read him.”

This revelation brings about complexities as we wonder if Norma and Maya are aware of Narvel’s sordid past. Looking at this, I kept thinking Narvel would reveal the truth of his past existence to both women in an intelligent fashion. But if he did, would this film have such rich dramatic tension?

Gardening and horticulture never struck me as something which could be captured in a cinematic way as it can seem rather boring. It is a credit to Schrader and company that “Master Gardener” makes gardening seem far more immersive than it might be to some. Like I said before, I would love to smell this garden Narvel is cultivating because it is clear no one can cultivate one the way he can.

Schrader also makes the characters and their situations all the more dramatic by pointing out how different their ages are to one another. Now I have long since learned to NOT ask any women their age as serious bodily harm is likely to occur and deservedly so, Norma being almost twice Narvel’s age and Maya being close to half of his. Taboos are bexploited for dramatic effect as certain things are not quickly accepted in today’s culture, but here we may need to look more closely at what is going on.

Looking at Joel Edgerton’s resume, I wonder if I have given him enough credit as an actor. He has played a variety of roles in the “Star Wars” prequels, “The Thing” prequel, “The Felony” and “The Gift” among other films. Each has shown him going from playing good guys to villains with relative ease, and that is a gift many in his field would love to have. While it might seem like Edgerton is playing Narvel as a far too reserved, it becomes clear why this is the case as he nails this character’s complexities perfectly from start to finish.

Sigourney Weaver is a very welcome presence here. As Norma, she gives off a very regal vibe which makes her seem like a peaceful individual, but her play on words reveals someone whose anger is just simmering beneath the surface. I also love how she makes indigent sound like a four-letter word.

Quintessa Swindell does very interesting work as Maya. We learn a lot about this character before she appears onscreen, and Swindell makes Maya into something more than a mere cliché or stereotype that many might expect her to be. As we find Maya becoming involved with a man who is at least a decade older than her, Swindell comes to hold her own opposite Edgerton in their scenes together to where it becomes clear who has the upper hand in this relationship.

When it comes to Schrader and his films, he typically works with the bare minimum of budgets, and I am always impressed with what he accomplishes with them regardless of how tight they are. The cinematography by Alexander Dynan is quite lovely, the music score by Dev Hynes fits the material just fine, and kudos to those who gave Schrader the money to make this one as indie films like these do not get as much support as they once did.

How does “Master Gardener” compare to Schrader’s other works? Hard to say as there are many I still need to watch. This one does not quite reach the cinematic heights of “First Reformed” or “Affliction,” but this one reminds me of what a compelling voice he still is in cinema. Perhaps the conclusion left me wanting more as it did not quite fill my cinematic bloodlust, but maybe that was because I was expecting the wrong kind of movie. Whereas many of Schrader’s films end in an orgy of violence, this one concludes in a way which gives a certain piece of dialogue from “Natural Born Killers” an infinite amount of meaning, “Love beats the demon.”

Perhaps the loners who inhabit Schrader’s recent works have found reasons to not end their lives in an intensely dramatic and fatal fashion as the women they encounter give them a reason to live on. While the writer of “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” might be treading through familiar territory, it is clear he has found how love can alter one’s destiny. This makes “Master Gardener” stand out in a memorable way as it defies certain expectations which I never should have brought into the theater in the first place.

Moreover, this film makes me view gardening and cultivating in a whole new light. I really enjoyed the specifics Schrader gives us when it comes to certain flowers as few other writers could these details down so perfectly. Perhaps I should visit the local flower or garden shop to truly appreciate the plants and their smells which are on display here.

I am glad Schrader is still making films in this cinematic climate. There always needs to be something outside of the mainstream.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘The Muppets’ – Jason Segel and Company Get Jim Henson’s Creations Just Right

Watching Kermit the Frog sing “Rainbow Connection” in “The Muppets” brought back one of my most cherished memories. “The Muppet Movie” was the first film I ever saw on the silver screen, and I consider myself fortunate that this was the case. I even brought along my own Kermit hand puppet with me, and I had him singing “Rainbow Connection” along with the real Kermit, and this was long before such actions might have been annoying to other audience members like when anyone takes out their cellphone during the latest cinematic spectacle which the MCU has to offer. These characters were a large part of my childhood, and I still find them endlessly entertaining all these years later.

“The Muppets” represents the kind of Muppet movie I have been yearning to see for years; one which appeals to the whole family and does not condescend to kids in the slightest. Ever since Jim Henson passed away in 1990, everything Muppet has been geared towards children without much thought to adults. The ironical humor we knew these felt characters for vanished without a trace, and Disney took over the franchise without really knowing how to sell them to either new or old generations. This became abundantly clear when “Muppets from Space” collapsed both critically and commercially back in 1999, and perhaps this was because they were not partying like it was 1999.

But with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s” Jason Segel and “Flight of the Conchords'” co-creator James Bobin directing and Bret McKenzie supervising the music, “The Muppets” is a movie the whole family can enjoy together, and it will put a smile on even the most jaded fan’s face. Granted, a number of puppeteers from this infamous franchise (namely Frank Oz) refused to participate because they felt the script did not respect the characters. I beg to differ on that.

Segel stars as Gary whose brother Walter is a Muppet himself, and both are die-hard fans of “The Muppet Show” in childhood. Their love for the Muppets stays strong even through puberty, and they finally get their chance to visit Muppet Studios when Gary invites Walter to come along with him and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) on a vacation to Los Angeles. But when they get there, they find the Muppet theatre it is now in a dilapidated state as Kermit and company have not performed together or seen each other in years.

Even worse, Walter overhears the evil oil magnate Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) planning to buy the Muppet theatre not to preserve it as a historic landmark, but to instead drill for oil underneath it. As a result, Walter, Gary and Mary join forces to reunite the Muppets in order to put on a telethon which will raise the money needed to save not just the Muppets, but the theatre where all the magic started.

My guess is Oz and the other puppeteers never saw the Muppets splitting up and going their separate ways, but having re-watched a lot of “Muppet Show” episodes recently, they did not always have the best time working together. Besides, they did split up, if only temporarily, in “The Muppets Take Manhattan” when Kermit got all pissed off about the gang constantly leaning on him to figure out what to do next. Heck, that Kermit didn’t ditch Miss Piggy sooner is amazing in retrospect.

Starting off with the Muppets having gone their separate ways years ago gives “The Muppets” an interesting jumping off point. Like many, these characters wonder if they are still relevant in today’s popular culture. While they are a big favorite of my generation, whether they can translate to another is still feels uncertain.

Even though the voices of the original Muppet performers are not present, the characters have not changed nor have they gotten cynical (unlike Statler and Waldorf). Steve Whitmire performs Kermit the Frog and does great work in capturing his unforgettable mannerisms without ever simply going through the motions. The same goes with the rest of the puppeteers here as they make each character from Miss Piggy to Animal all their own.

It ia also interesting to see where all these Muppets are at today. Kermit is living in a mansion which is not in the best condition, Miss Piggy is the editor in chief of Vogue Paris, Scooter works at Google, and Sam the Eagle is a Fox News-like personality which seems to be the perfect venue for his endless pomposity. But the one Muppet who practically steals this movie is Animal who we meet up with again at an anger management clinic where Jack Black is his sponsor.

As for the human actors, Segel is a hoot as Gary, and his love for the Muppets shines through every contribution he has in this film. Amy Adams remains infinitely adorable as her sweetness is no act, and she scores a huge musical highlight with the song “Party of One.” We even get to see Chris Cooper do a rap song, and it is not as terrifying as it sounds. As for Jack Black, he becomes the most unwilling guest star “The Muppet Show” has ever had.

The music is really good as well, and it never becomes cringe-inducing thank goodness. “Life’s a Happy Song” starts off the proceedings with a happiness which feels genuine, and you can tell Segel is having the time of his life while singing it. The one song though which truly deserved a Best Original Song nomination is “Man or Muppet” where both Segel and Walter bring down the house in deciding who they really are, as if the answer was not the least bit obvious. And yes, it did win the Oscar in that category, but this should not have surprised anyone as this song did not have much in the way of competition.

It is also great to see that ironic humor the Muppets were famous for back on display here. They push the bounds of the PG rating to where if the kids do not get what is being said, it is probably just as well. I loved how they got away with the Muppet chickens singing Cee-Lo Green’s “Fuck You” without its explicit lyrics. Oh, I’m sorry, I mean Cee-Lo Green’s “Forget You” (right, whatever).

But what makes “The Muppets” so good is that everyone, be it the Muppets, the human actors or those making cameos, comes into this project without any cynicism. Making a movie with the best of intentions or one with a happy ending is greeted with our eyes rolling in the back of our heads as we come out feeling utterly and shamelessly manipulated. The filmmakers even bring back “The Muppet Show’s” opening theme song as it was performed in season three, and it looks almost exactly like it did all those years ago. Even “Mahna Mahna” is brought back, and being it was the very first sketch on “The Muppet Show,” that should show you how much these filmmakers value their childhood entertainment.

Kermit, Fozzie, and Miss Piggy will never feel or sound exactly as they did from years ago, but “The Muppets” proves they still have their charms and humor long after their glory days. It is a film made with a lot of love for the imagination Jim Henson gave us, and deep down we all would hate to see his wondrous imagination die away without a trace.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’

The Incredible Shrinking Man” comes from a genre I feel I know a lot about but have actually not seen many movies from: 1950’s science fiction. I went into it thinking it would look horribly dated and laughable for all the wrong reasons. What I instead discovered was a film which actually holds up very well after half a century with its terrific special effects and strong performances. It also deals with themes and situations which prove to be as relatable today as they were back in the time this film was released.

Scott Carey (Grant Williams) is spending an enjoyably sunny day on a boat with his wife, Louise (Randy Stuart), when a strange mist passes through him and spills some glittery substance over his body. Louise manages to not get covered by this same substance as she was down below getting a beer for her husband because men can be schmucks when they ask their spouses to get them things they should be able to get themselves (that’ll show him!). Now Scott thinks nothing of what happened until he suddenly notices his shirt is now too big for him, and then his wedding ring falls off his finger which is clearly not a good omen.

After being examined by his doctors, Scott discovers that the glittery substance is not the same kind gay groups doused Newt Gingrich with during his needless run for President of the United States. Whatever is causing him to shrink, his attempts to reverse this unfortunate condition his fail. At one point, Scott becomes so tiny to where he is forced to seek refuge in a doll house for his own safety. This makes sense until the household cat ends up mistaking him for a mouse, and he ends up running into the basement where he is forced to face dangers no human being should ever have to.

What I found endlessly fascinating about “The Incredible Shrinking Man” is that what people end up enduring after attaining an odd and unwanted fame is not much different from what anyone would experience today. Scott ends up selling his story to the press not to become famous, but because he no longer has a job and needs the money for his wife and himself to survive. The more of a curiosity he becomes, the less human he is seen by the world.

Today, if someone were going through this, we might expect them to be more forthcoming about becoming famous for something they did not exactly want to become known for as there is much money to be made, and an obscene amount at that. In the process, it is easy to forget the humanity of certain people involved, and “The Incredibly Shrinking Man” deals with the inescapable loneliness which results.

Scott clearly does not want all these photographers parked outside his front door, but he is helpless to stop their onslaught. Then again, imagine if he was dealing with this today; he would have no privacy whatsoever. It would not matter if he spent his days indoors because the damn paparazzi would find a way to get inside and snap a picture of him. Even though Scott vents at his wife against his better judgment, you I could not help but feel for him as he goes through a process no one would want to endure. That is, unless they were ridiculously desperate for some kind of attention.

“The Incredible Shrinking Man” really picks up an extraordinary amount of tension when Scott gets stuck in that basement. The special effects up to this point are very well executed, but they take on a bigger challenge when Scott is no bigger than the match box he hides in. The use of forced perspective and real physical structures makes his predicament all the more thrilling and emotionally involving. The simple act of getting food becomes a life-or-death struggle, and I felt for him as he was forced to climb up towards a stale piece of bread using only a needle and thread.

Even the simplest effects make Scott’s struggle all the more brutal as the merest failure will force right back to the start, and we can identify with the infinite frustration this causes no matter how big or small we are. But what makes his fight for survival all the more viscerally frightening is the scary-looking spider (is there any other kind?) he is forced to do battle with. It is moments Scott shares with this spider which had me the most frightened and on the edge of my seat. For a film which is now a century old, this is saying a lot. That, and I cannot stand spiders in general.

Much credit should be given to Williams here as he does not always make Scott the most likable human being. Still, whatever you may think of him, Scott is made to experience something no other human being has. While you may want to chide Scott for the way he unloads his frustrations on those closest to him, watching him makes me wonder if I would have reacted any differently. I would like to think so, but perhaps a lot of wishful thing is involved there.

“The Incredible Shrinking Man” is based on a book by Richard Matheson entitled “The Shrinking Man” (he found the “Incredible” adjective to be unnecessary). Matheson has been responsible for some of the greatest science fiction stories ever told such as “I Am Legend,” various episodes of “The Twilight Zone” like “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and the short story “Button, Button” which became the basis for “The Box.”

I think “The Incredible Shrinking Man” represents one of the finest adaptations of Matheson’s work as it deals with the humanity of Scott’s situation as much as it does with visual effects. The effects are great, but it is our relation to Scott and what he is going through that makes this movie work so effectively. No one wants a household spider to suddenly become bigger than they are, but this film forces you to deal with these fears to where they are more real than you could ever expect them to be.

This is also a film which has a voiceover narration to accompany its events. When it comes to this way of telling a story, it can go either way; At times, it can tell us things we do not need spelled out to us, but here it also gives great depth to the film’s themes as it makes Scott’s view of his existence change throughout in ways both positive and negative.

The ending still haunts me even long after I watched it. The conclusion is solemn in a way as Scott becomes resigned to his downsized fate, but it is also strangely hopeful as he becomes convinced he will still be a part of this vast universe no matter how small he gets. Even in the 1950’s, filmmakers did not take the easy way out when wrapping up a motion picture. It is not an “everything is going to be okay” ending, but it is not a complete downer either.

I was surprised at just how much I got into “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” The title seems to imply we are about to see something endlessly cheesy, but this film proved to be thrilling and had me on the edge of my seat throughout. I imagine Hollywood will eventually remake it someday and turn it into a comedy, but they will not be able to touch the deeper meanings of what Richard Matheson was getting at. Please feel free to prove me wrong, but you will need a lot of luck in the process.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

WRITER’S NOTE: This film is now available in a special edition from the Criterion Collection. Click here to find out more.

‘Evil Dead’ Remake Has its Moments, but it Could Have Been Better

Seriously, I really wanted to love this remake of “Evil Dead” the way my fellow horror fans did. They seem to be thrilled about this one in ways they usually are not when it comes to remakes of any kind, and we knew way in advance that this remake was designed to be an incredibly gory delight. But while the filmmakers did their best to not just do the same old thing with their take on Sam Raimi’s immortal cult classic from 1981, the story of a group of young adults trapped in an old cabin and being terrorized by demons has now been told one too many times for it to thrill me anymore. Furthermore, they spent more time making this movie look bloody as hell instead of truly scary, and this is why it fell apart for me.

The character of Ash was wisely left out of this interpretation as no one would dare try to replace Bruce Campbell in this unforgettable role. Heck, even if Campbell was dead, no one would be recklessly stupid as to attempt such a foolish feat as replacing him in this role would be like replacing the late Richard Belzer as John Munch. Instead, the story centers around a young woman named Mia (Jane Levy) who has come to that horrific cabin in the woods to kick her opiate addiction once and for all. She is joined by her brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), with whom she has not always had the best relationship, and his sexy girlfriend, because guys like him just have to have one, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). Also present are her friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) who have watched Mia go through detox before, and they are not sure they can handle her going through it again.

This “Evil Dead” takes its sweet time setting up the characters and their backstories before they discover the Naturom Demonto, best known as being the Book of the Dead. I loved how so many of the pages had things written on it such as DON’T SAY THESE WORDS OUT LOUD, and yet Eric, whose job as a high school teacher has made him quite cynical, just has to read them anyway. Besides, how is a horror movie supposed to work if nobody does anything incredibly stupid? Those faceless demons then make their way to the isolated cabin with the sole intention of possessing its inhabitants and then killing them off one by one. The question is, which one of them will be left standing at the end?

This remake was directed by Fede Alvarez who made the short film “Ataque de Pánico!” (aka “Panic Attack!”) which was a big hit on You Tube, and he would later go on to make the terrific horror thriller “Don’t Breathe.” He does not seem the least bit shy about giving us tons of blood and gore, and it made me wonder what graphic images he had to cut out in order to avoid an NC-17 rating. You have one character slicing their tongue in half, another tearing chunks of flesh out of their face, and yet another using a nail gun the same way Danny Glover used one in “Lethal Weapon 2.” And let us not forgot that one person who gets a chainsaw shoved into a part of their body which would eliminate the need for a tonsillectomy. Still, no NC-17. Perhaps this is because in this version, no one gets raped by a tree.

But while Alvarez and company put a lot of work into the gory effects, I wished they had put just as much effort into the story. Things are played a lot more seriously here than they need to be, and it would have been great if they included more of the original’s sense of humor which helped to make it so memorable. With this remake, the filmmakers are already at a disadvantage because this kind of story has been told to death far too many times already. We quickly know where the characters are heading once they mistake of unlocking the door to that darn cabin, and all we can do is wonder who will be the first to die and how.

Also, there is way too much shaky camerawork going and, when this remake came out, I was getting to the point where I can no longer defend anyone going overboard with this kind filmmaking. I used to get a kick out of shaky cam, but I have since come to believe this technique is best to Paul Greengrass.

As for the actors, the majority of them are just okay. Not that the cast of the original gave Oscar worthy performances, but they were a lot livelier than this bunch. The strongest performance comes from Jane Levy, best known for her work on the television shows “Shameless” and “Suburgatory,” as Mia. While her character is one messed up individual, Levy makes you get deeply involved in Mia’s plight from start to finish to where we never want to abandon her.

When all is said and done, it is impossible not to have had high expectations for this particular horror remake as Raimi, Campbell and Robert G. Tapert (producer of the original “Evil Dead”) were on board to make sure the fans got all the blood and gore they wanted. As a result, I knew this version would not be dumbed down into some lame PG-13 flick where all the edge was rendered moot for mass consumption. I did enjoy parts of it, and it did keep me entertained for the most part. But considering the talent involved, I expected it to be a lot more than what it was.

The great thing about the original “Evil Dead” was how Raimi was able to pull off so many clever and innovative shots on such a low budget. Alvarez was able to work with a much larger budget this time around ($17 million), but while he certainly does try his hardest, he cannot top what Raimi did or bring much of anything new to this material. I do have to give him some credit as he gets away with using practical special effects instead of throwing a bunch of cheap CGI crap at us. This is what helps to keep the goings on more entertaining than they should be. In no way should this remake seem like a total loss as it did give us filmmakers and actors who have since moved on to bigger and better things, and they deserve to be where they are at. Still, I wished I liked this version much more than I did.

I came out of this “Evil Dead” remake with some hope despite my mixed reaction to it as I wondered if it could possibly give Hollywood enough of a reason to give us a fourth film with Ash Williams following the events of “Army of Darkness.” People had been praying for a fourth “Evil Dead” film for years, and we finally got one in the form of a cable series entitled “Ash vs Evil Dead.” This proved to be loads of fun, but when it was all over, Campbell made it clear he was retiring the character once and for all as he could no longer tackle the physical and emotional punishment, but we have a new one entitled “Evil Dead Rise” which looks to reinvigorate the franchise in a whole other way. Here is hoping it is worth the wait.

By the way, for those of you who have not yet watched this “Evil Dead” remake, I implore you to sit through the end credits as there is a special surprise at the very end. Trust me, it is worth the wait. And, sad to say, it was my favorite part of this film.

* * ½ out of * * * *