Interview with the Cast and Director of ‘The Menu’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Menu’ Serves Up Quite a Devious Dish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Halloween Ends’ – Expect The Unexpected

I got to listen to the film score for “Halloween Ends” in its entirety before I sat down to watch the concluding chapter of this particular Michael Myers trilogy. Composed and performed by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, it reminds me of what Carpenter himself said about this installment: it is meant to be “more intimate” than its predecessors, and the music helps to illustrate this. But more importantly, it reminded me to go into this sequel expecting the unexpected as the previous installment was undone by too many expectations.

While 2018’s “Halloween” may have delivered the goods thanks to the return of Jamie-Lee Curtis and John Carpenter to the long-running franchise, “Halloween Kills” was treated indifferently as everyone looked at director David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and their team of filmmakers as if to ask them, “Do you even know what you are doing?” But it occurred to me that, like Rob Zombie did with his “Halloween” films, Green is not out to give us the same old thing, Instead, he is determined to add something new to a franchise which has burned itself out from fatigue more than once.

Four years have passed since the night Michael came home again, and everything in Haddonfield has more or less gone back to normal. Still, the physical and emotional scars of the townspeople are on display as people look to blame Laurie Strode for all the chaos and death which has occurred over the years. Nevermind the fact none of this was Laurie’s fault; everyone needs a scapegoat when the killer is nowhere to be found, and people these days tend to believe in the wrong things because they never bother doing the research.

As for Laurie, she has since procured a house for herself and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) to live in, and she is working on her memoirs as a way to deal with all the evil and death which seriously derailed her life. Allyson now has a job at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital and is expecting a promotion any day now, Deputy Frank Hawkins is still quite sweet on Laurie even as she begs him to eat more vegetables, and Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) remains a good family friend and continues to serve drinks at the local Haddonfield bar.

Into all of this enters Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), a young man who, like Laurie, once had a promising future which involved going to engineering school. But this is all laid waste to after a child he babysat ends up dying in a freak accident. As a result, he is seen as a freak of nature by the townspeople who hate him with little in the way of shame, and he is reduced to working in his Uncle Ronald’s junkyard fixing cars and stuff. But soon he gets the attention and sympathy of Laurie Strode and also Allyson as they see him as someone to help and relate to, but it doesn’t take too long for things to become very sinister to where many are reminded of a force of evil often referred to as “the shape.”

Right from the start, it should be clear how Green is looking to give us a new slant on things with “Halloween Ends.” I expected this one to start off with Michael Myers making his first kill, but it goes a whole other way which I did not see coming. Also, the classic font from the 1978 film is dropped in favor of the font used in the opening and closing credits of “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” As for the pumpkin, it keeps changing faces as to indicate to us how nothing is what it seems on the surface. Yes, he is defying our expectations in a way I personally welcome.

Truth be told, we don’t even get to see Michael Myers until almost a half an hour into “Halloween Ends.” The way I see it, the filmmakers see this sequel as a way of meditating on our collective relationship with evil; how we deal with it, how we can possibly overcome it, and how it can consume us beyond all repair. Laurie and Allyson have had their brutal experiences in this realm, and Corey is only getting started. This is why I find this particular installment so fascinating as I wondered who would prove to be more fearful, Michael or those who survived his wrath as a person’s dark side can easily overcome all else.

The fact “Halloween Ends” is getting such polarized views is not surprising to me. Fans go into them expecting certain things, and this one doesn’t always deliver on them for a variety of reasons. While fans may be begging for the same old thing, I always admire a filmmaker who is willing to take things in a different direction as franchises like these need any form of freshness they can get. Sure, there are some solid scares here, but this sequel is more about getting into your head psychologically than anything else as the dark side in all of us can easily consume our common sense and purpose in life before we realize it.

Andi Matichak remains a wonderfully strong presence as her character of Allyson maneuvers through a life in which she has lost so much and strives for any kind of normalcy she can get her hands on. Will Patton is still one of our most dependable character actors, and it is fun to see him try to warm up to Laurie Strode in a way few others could. And then there is Rohan Campbell who gives us a character in Corey who succumbs to an evil nature partly because life has given him few other avenues to pursue. In the process, Campbell gives us someone we empathize with and fear all at the same time.

But in the end, all praise goes to Jamie Lee Curtis who never fails in giving a strong performance in any motion picture she appears in. “Halloween Ends” is no exception as she makes Laurie Strode’s struggle to stay one step ahead of the evil which has destroyed much of her life all the more involving. Like Ellen Ripley from the “Aliens” franchise, she has been fighting her personal antagonist for so long to where she cannot remember a time when Michael was not in her life. Curtis represents the strong character a franchise like this thrives on as she strives, and encourages those around her, to not fall victim to a way of feeling which is inevitably destructive.

Many have complained about how “Halloween Ends” takes too long to get to the penultimate event we have all been waiting for; Laurie doing battle with Michael Myers one last time. Some need to be reminded of how the original 1978 acted as a slow-burn horror movie as it, aside from the key murder at its start, left the violence on hold until its latter half. Carpenter was more interested in creating an atmosphere of horror and suspense than in perpetrating violent onscreen violence back then, and Green mostly follows suit here. Also, this movie is not called “Michael vs. Laurie” for a number of reasons (and thank God it wasn’t by the way). I mean come on; this sequel is not just about these two.

Sure, it does contain a number of disposable characters who are just asking to be sliced and diced here. There’s a nurse who gets the promotion Allyson was hoping for, but that’s because she’s having an affair with the doctor the two are working under. Then there’s Allyson’s ex-boyfriend, a police officer who just won’t let their relationship, and there’s no forgetting the African-American DJ who never knows when to keep his mouth shut. They are all just begging for an exceptionally brutal exit from life, and one murder in particular would make Tom Savini proud, seriously.

In the end, I admired “Halloween Ends” for trying something different in the slasher movie genre. While it might not be completely successful, its ambitions kept my eyes glued to the screen, and it helps to bring closure to Laurie Strode’s constant fear of “The Shape.” Perhaps this ending will not satisfy everyone, but I can accept it for what it is.

Of course, it is hard to believe this will be the last “Halloween” movie ever. We have seen promising titles such as “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter,” “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare,” “Saw 3D: The Final Chapter” and “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday” throughout the decades, and they eventually became punchlines we still laugh at. For sure, this is definitely the last “Halloween” movie for Jamie-Lee Curtis, John Carpenter and Blumhouse among others as the rights to franchise will now revert back to the Akkad family.

What life has taught me and others is evil never dies. It simply changes shape, especially when money is concerned.

* * * out of * * * *

‘Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile’ – Fun for the Kids. Adults? Not so Much

For some reason, I have found myself thinking about “The Muppets Take Manhattan” over the past few days. I’m not sure why as, while it is very good, it does not rank as highly for me as “The Muppet Movie” or “The Great Muppet Caper” do. Perhaps it came to mind because it was one of the last Muppet movies to appeal to both kids and adults at the same time. The equivalent to that these days are Pixar movies, and yet many of them end up streaming on Disney Plus instead of being shown on the silver screen where they belong.

When it comes to family movies these days, I always hope and pray they will appeal to both kids and adults, but that is often not the case. The latest example of this is “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” which is based on the children’s story of the same name by Bernard Waber as well as its prequel, “The House on East 88th Street.” Apart from featuring quite the cast of actors, it also contains songs from those who wrote the music for “The Greatest Showman,” and I still remember that cinematic musical as being quite invigorating. When it comes to this movie musical, however, the kids are bound to have a fun time, but adults will find the proceedings watchable at best.

“Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” introduces us to Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem), an aspiring actor and musician who looks to make it big in show business and on a show which is the equivalent of “America’s Got Talent.” We quicky learn, however, that Hector has been around this show’s tryouts quite a bit, and those involved are quick to eject him from the premises before he embarrasses himself any further.

Regardless of his circumstances, Hector is still determined to become a big star no matter what, and he finds his key to success while visiting a pet store in downtown New York. While there, he comes across a young saltwater crocodile named Lyle (Shawn Mendes) who has the kind of singing voice which would wow the judges on “American Idol.” They quickly form a singing and dancing act which Hector believes will lead them to a life of infinite fame and fortune, Lyle, like Michigan J. Frog from the Merrie Melodies short “One Froggy Evening,” finds he is not up to performing in front of an audience. Due to financial necessity, Hector is forced to leave Lyle behind as he goes solo in an attempt to make the money he so desperately needs to pay off those he is in debt to.

Cut to 18 months later (Enya was right when she sang about how time flies), and Hector’s residence is now being inhabited by the Primm family which is made up of Joseph (Scoot McNairy), Katie (Constance Wu) and their son Josh (Winslow Fegley). These three have just moved from the suburbs to downtown because what better way to uproot themselves and their son. As you can expect, Josh ends up befriending Lyle in an unexpected way, and the two quickly bond as two strangers in a strange world can.

Like “Don’t Worry Darling,” “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” deals with a storyline which is as old as they come. Whether we are talking “E.T.” or “Mac and Me,” one of Paul Rudd’s favorite motion pictures ever, a young child alienated in their environment and befriending a creature who quickly becomes their best friend has been done to death. Judging from the reception I witnessed at the press screening I went to; young kids will very much enjoy this. As for the adults, they will get much enjoyment over how their children react to what is on the silver screen, but they may find themselves tunning out more often than not.

When it comes to Lyle, this is a crocodile you want to hug and keep Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee away from as Lyle is not about to take anyone on a death roll. Directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon have gone out of their way to make this creature a lovable one to where kids will be begging their parents for a crocodile of their own come Christmastime. To this, parents will be wondering if they actually want a real one or if a stuffed animal will do.

The best things about this movie is, of course, Javier Bardem who makes the wannabe actor and magician Hector P. Valenti all the more charismatic. What seems like a simple two-dimensional character on the page is made all the more complex as Bardem makes you love, despise and pity Hector all at the same time. I figured a role in a movie like this would seem like a walk in the park for him, but clearly this is not the case.

As for the other human actors, Winslow Fegley makes Josh Primm into an appealingly alienated young dude whose earnestness is well earned. Constance Wu gives her a scenes a wonderfully physical and comedic flair while Brett Gelman wastes no time in making us see why his character of Mr. Grumps has the name he has. As for Scoot McNairy, I get the feeling he would rather be in another picture than this one.

When it comes to the songs by Pasek and Paul, the same duo who penned the music for “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman,” for me they went in one ear and right out the other. Sure, they have a boisterous quality to them and get the adrenaline going for a minute, but they also don’t leave much of an aftertaste. Some musicals you come out of humming a tune or two, but this one had me struggling to remember any lyrics.

Shawn Mendes does have quite the voice as Lyle sings to communicate with the Primm family and others, but it eventually got to where I wanted this crocodile to speak as well as sing. I wanted Lyle to discuss how he felt about movies like “Crocodile Dundee,” or if he found the 1980 cult classic “Alligator” in any way offensive to his species. Or perhaps this is just my way of saying that my wandered from time to time as the events unfolded, and that is never a good sign.

You know what? “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” is not a bad movie. It is watchable and at times a lot of fun, but it seems rather generic as compared to so many others from this genre. I have no doubt kids will enjoy this, especially the very young ones. As for the adults, hopefully they will enjoy how their children react to what they see on the silver screen.

For me, it’s not enough for a movie to be passable at best, and this is especially the case with family or children’s’ movies.

* * ½ out of * * * *

‘DC League of Super-Pets’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

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

DC League of Super-Pets” is a film which, on paper, sounded like it would be an enjoyable and entertaining animated film for families to enjoy on a rainy day.  I was especially drawn to the cast of the film, which features such actors as Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski, Natasha Lyonne, Keanu Reeves and Olivia Wilde. However, this feels more like a 10 to 15 animated short than it does a feature length film.  There isn’t a lot of material for the actors to work with here as far as the story is concerned.  It also appears that some of the actors are phoning in their voice performances.

The film opens up by introducing the audience to Superman (John Krasinski) and his best friend, Krypto, a Labrador Retriever, voiced by Dwayne Johnson.  They do everything together, including their daily walk-o’clock.  Krypto, however, is starting to become jealous when he notices that Superman is spending an awful lot of time with Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), and worries he will be left behind.  After all, who is Krypto going to watch The Great British Bake off with?  He’s feeling left out and drowns his sorrows with ice cream and Taylor Swift songs to deal with the pain.  Meanwhile, Superman is hoping to get a buddy for Krypto, so he doesn’t depend on him so much.

While looking for a friend for Bark Kent (Krypto’s day-to-day dog persona), he stumbles into a shelter with a variety of animals, such as a boxer named Ace (Kevin Hart), PB, a potbellied pig, voiced by Vanessa Bayer, a turtle voiced by Natasha Lyonne, and a red squirrel voiced by Diego Luna. The one bad egg in the bunch is a hairless Guinea pig named Lulu, who has been under the guidance of Lex Luthor (Marc Maron). She was a test subject at LexCorp, and now has evil powers of her own, which help her capture The Justice League.  It is up to all of the animals to work together in order to save The Justice League and stop Lulu.  They now have superpowers of their own which they must harness for good in order to restore peace.

This should have been a film which hit just the right notes in terms of appealing to young kids and also having some adult humor as well.  There is adult humor here, but it feels very on-the-nose and not at all natural or organic.  All of the flying around mixed with the superhero powers makes the film feel very tedious to sit through at times.  There is a story behind Ace becoming a shelter dog that adds some layers to his character, and there are also individual moments in the film which are funny and work within the structure of the film.

Overall, though, I can’t imagine too many kids getting all of the adult jokes which are forced into ‘DC League of Super-Pets” periodically.  I also can’t picture parents or adults enjoying the stuff intended for kids.  The film ends at around 95 minutes even though it has a 105-minute running time.  It still felt too long, and I found myself clock-watching.  It’s a case of a film where they thought as long as they had the right voice actors and the DC name attached to it with pets, they were good to go.  They didn’t take the time to actually craft a script which was worthwhile, interesting or well-developed.  They got lazy when it came time to putting the screenplay together.

I had high hopes for this one, but in the end it fell flat.  What is most frustrating about “DC League of Super-Pets” is the potential that can be seen here for a good movie.  There are some backstories and relatable moments which work quite well, but they are not consistent enough throughout the course of the film. It’s an example of an average movie with good scenes sprinkled throughout.  There is a good movie waiting to come out, but it never fully gets on track because of mediocre writing, lackluster voice work and a very lazy plot.  This is a film with a ton of potential which could have been one of the better animated films of the year, but is instead instantly forgettable.  It’s truly a shame, as this is one of the best casts I’ve ever seen for an animated film.  They should have utilized this cast and gave them interesting things to say in a comedic fashion.  Kevin Hart is subdued and for good reason (when you discover his character’s backstory), but no one really stands out here.  Kate McKinnon even seems to be reaching here.

* * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “DC League of Super-Pets” is being released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  The film is rated PG for action, mild violence, language and rude humor.  It has a running time of 105 minutes.  It also comes with a digital copy of the film.

Video Info: The 4K of the film is very bright and colorful.  I will say this—the 4K looks simply stunning with its vivid colors. Certain animated films really pop on 4K HDR, and this is one of them.

Audio Info: The Dolby Atmos track is also on point throughout the film, as it never gets too high or too low, even during the action scenes.  It’s just right. Subtitles are included in Canadian French, English and Latin Spanish.

Special Features:

How to Draw Krypto

Behind the Super Voices

Super-Pets Animation 101

Find the Easter Eggs

The World of Super-Pets

Deleted Scenes

Should You Buy It?

I think it’s safe to say from reading my review that the answer is no.  I felt very bored and disinterested while watching “DC League of Super-Pets.”  As stated in my review, the plot is run-of-the-mill and the characters are so underdeveloped. I love animals, as my wife and I have four of our own.  I know they are animated here, but still; they can be cute and funny in animated form.  Another problem with this film is you know certain actors are voicing the parts.  When you can clearly notice their voices, that’s a problem. It means they haven’t really allowed themselves to get into character fully.  Instead, they are simply reading lines right in front of them without any change to their delivery or speech. This is an average film.  It’s a one and done film for me.  For everyone else?  I can’t recommend you check it out, even as a rental.  The film looks and sounds great, but that isn’t enough to make it worth watching or owning.

**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.

‘Don’t Worry Darling’ – Well, Actually, You Probably Should

Going into “Don’t Worry Darling,” I wondered if the hype for this film had inadvertently hurt it. This is the second directorial feature from Olivia Wilde whose first film, “Booksmart,” was one of my favorites of 2019, and people like myself became ever so excited to see what film she would tackle next. It also features quite the cast with Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine and Nick Kroll among others, and the trailers have shown it to have a very striking look. In recent months, the behind-the-scenes stories have taken an annoying precedence over everything else such as Wilde’s relationship with Styles which started during production, or the on-set conflicts between her and Pugh which led to what was allegedly quite the screaming match. It also had the added pressure of being promoted as a serious Oscar contender and raising everyone’s that high can ultimately lead to an inescapable disappointment even if the end result is not bad.

Well, “Don’t Worry Darling” has now arrived at movie theaters everywhere, and this allowed me to watch the film outside of all its gossip and with a full audience in attendance, For the record, I think Wilde is still quite the director as she gives the proceedings a beautiful visual look thanks in part to cinematographer Matthew Libatique, the music score by John Powell is unlike others he has given us in the past and is quite effective, and there are many strong performances to be found here throughout. But when all is said and done, Wilde and her fellow filmmakers have given us a film with a story which is old, old, old. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the plot here represents a path which has been walked and trodden down far too many times.

As the film opens, we are taken back to the 1950’s where a several married couples are enjoying an evening of endless fun and drunken games in their hometown of Victory, California. Among them is Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Harry Styles) who love one another to such an infinite degree as a certain scene at the dinner table will show you. As Jack gets into his car to drive to work, we see the other husbands doing the same and at the exact same time. It should go without saying how this is the first sign of things being too good to be true. While the husbands work their butts off at work, their wives stay at home either taking care of the kids or preparing the best dinner anyone could ever hope to eat, assuming it was not accidentally burnt to a crisp. Everything seems to be going in unison, and it’s only a matter of time when someone upsets the balance of things.

For Alice, it doesn’t take all that long before she realizes something is amiss. One day she cooks eggs and bacon for her husband and discovers some of the eggs are hollow. She notices a plane crashing into the mountains while others claim complete ignorance. Like all the other husbands, Jack never tells her exactly what he does for a living. And yes, there is that one neighbor who acts like Kevin McCarthy in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or Crazy Ralph in “Friday the 13th” as she tells anyone who is listening, “We’re being lied to! Don’t you see?” Of course, not enough people bother to listen to such cryptic warnings until it is too late.

By this description, it should be plainly obvious as to where “Don’t Worry Darling” is going, and is painful for me to write that Wilde is unable to bring anything new or fresh to the material. A friend of mine has compared it to M. Nigh Shyamalan’s “The Village,” and I don’t blame him. For me, it is a combination of “The Village” and Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky” as the revelations characters make here are never the least bit surprising, and the line between what’s real and what is not is stunningly lackluster. I even kept waiting for one or more characters to throw up their arms and scream out loud, “TECH SUPPORT!” No such luck though.

Heck, “Don’t Worry Darling” even reminded me of season eight episode of “The Simpsons” entitled “You Only Move Twice” in which Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie leave Springfield and move to the all-too perfect town of Cypress Rock. Homer gets to work for a surprisingly sympathetic boss named Hank Scorpio who is later revealed to be a supervillain bent on creating a doomsday device. Of course, this is all lost on Homer who barely registers the chaos Hank is wreaking on the world. Then again, who wants to quickly admit the perfect world they live in is not all that perfect?

Things become even more obvious as we get to know the Hank Scorpio of this movie, Frank, played by the always terrific Chris Pine. Frank is the founder of this utopia everyone lives in called the Victory Project, and he demands everyone’s loyalty in the most passive-aggressive way. But while he encourages the wives not to question their husbands’ work and to keep their distance from the project’s headquarters, he’s also gleefully daring them, Alice in particular, to get to the truth about the project just to see if they possibly convince anyone else of it.

Even as the movie staggers through the bleeding obvious, there was one thing which kept me engrossed from start to finish: the performance of Florence Pugh. She is dynamite here as Alice and so emotionally raw that it was impossible to take my eyes off of her. Even if the chemistry between her and Harry Styles, who is good but not great here, is a bit lacking, she makes up for it and helps elevate this material to a level it doesn’t deserve to be at. I also loved the scene between her and Pine at the dinner table in which they essentially play a mental chess match with one another as Alice tries to make everyone see through the web of lies they are caught up in.

It really sucks to say “Don’t Worry Darling” will forever be upstaged by its behind-the-scenes stories as they now prove to be far more interesting than what unfolds here on the silver screen. Again, Wilde is not a bad director, and I know she will rebound from this. While the hype machine may have gone into overload on this cinematic endeavor, it still does not change the fact that this is a case of “been there, done that.”

* * out of * * * *

‘The Woman King’ – Viola Davis Kicks Ass, and That’s No Surprise

As soon as Viola Davis rises from the bushes as General Nanisca in “The Woman King,” I knew this film was going to kick ass. Throughout her career, whether she was in “Doubt,” “Out of Sight” or “The Help,” this Oscar-winning actress has proven to be a force of nature and one to be reckoned with. When it came to the film version of “Fences,” the question was not if Davis could her own with Denzel Washington, but if Denzel could hold his own with her. As for her work as Amanda Waller in those “Suicide Squad” movies, she made the crew of delinquents and outright criminals working under her command look like a bunch of pussies. She does the same here as she dominates the screen to where no one with a half a brain should even dare to question how lethal she can be as she lays waste to her oppressors with little in the way of remorse.

“The Woman King” takes us back to the 1800s to the kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa. There is an opening prologue which tells us of the peril this kingdom is under that is a little hard to follow, but the main thing to know is that the kingdom is protected by an all-female unit of warriors known as the Agojie. As the opening sequence makes clear, they are far and away the most feared warriors on the continent as we watch them crush their opponents ever so confidently. Of course, you don’t see a lot of blood here as this is a PG-13 rated motion picture, but all the bones breaking and shattering are here on display, reminding us once again that the MPAA remains far more comfortable with violence than love-making.

Yes, this group of warriors did exist in reality. Actress Maria Bello became aware of this piece of history while visiting Africa, and she serves as “The Woman King’s” co-producer and co-writer for good reason. Granted, the movie’s story does deal with inescapable cliches and familiar storylines to where the term “inspired by true events” this movie is being promoted with makes a lot more sense than “based on a true story,” and you all know how I feel about that term which has long since become useless to me.

The story follows certain conventions and employs familiar cliches in an effort to make us follow and understand these characters on a general level. While General Nanisca (Davis) is well-regarded as a warrior, others such as the many wives of King Ghezo (John Boyega) see her as a mere commoner, unworthy of such admiration. Of course, one of those wives gets her comments thrown back in her face upon being reminded of how she hid behind locked doors while the kingdom was being attacked. Be careful when you talk shit about others!

Into the plot comes the young Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) who is about to sold to a man who is to be her husband. This prospective husband, however, is quick to smack Nawi in the face when she does not respond to him, and her response is to shove him back several feet to where he lands flat on his back. Instead of fighting back, he cowers away, blaming Nawi’s father for raising such crazy children.

From there, Nawi’s father drags her to the area where the Agojie train and presents her as a gift to the king. It’s punishment for her not accepting a husband, but even she knows this is her only destiny. Like the Jedi, the Agojie cannot marry or have children, and this is a destiny she is prepared to take on. Of course, it will come with many bumps and bruises throughout time.

Okay, let me get to the performances. Like I said, Davis is a force of nature, and it is so thrilling to watch her use every fiber of being and body to portray such a hardened warrior. Just from looking at her eyes, she makes you believe this is a warrior who has survived many battles and endured much pain and suffering others would never be able to handle. It’s tempting to compare General Nanisca to Tom Berenger’s character of Sgt. Barnes from “Platoon,” but Nanisca still has a lot of heart under that hardened gaze of hers.

Upon her entrance into training, Nawi is met by another Agojie warrior, Izogie, and she is played by “No Time to Die’s” Lashana Lynch who is wickedly good here. Izogie is also a hardened warrior, but she still has a wide smile and an undeniably sharp sense of humor even after all she has been through. It’s a blast watching her as she steals the show in the same way she did opposite Daniel Craig when she portrayed another 007.

Special attention should be also given to Mbedu who takes her character of Nawi from an innocent soul to a true warrior. She runs the gamut of emotions throughout and embodies this soldier-in-training with tremendous enthusiasm to where you believe every part of her rough and tumble journey on an emotional and physical level. You have to respect the actor/actress who can make a transition like this in a motion picture because it is never easy.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball,” “Beyond the Lights” and “The Old Guard”) keeps things moving at a steady pace throughout, and the film never lags for a second. She has created one of the more engrossing and action-packed films of 2022 and has brought us a piece of history which will never be easily forgotten once you have watched the action in front of you.

As I write this, “The Woman King” has since earned an A+ rating on CinemaScore and debuted at the top of the U.S. box office. It’s a thrill to see it doing so well in this day and age. Still, part of me wished the filmmakers had given the action more of the “Braveheart” brutality as there were plenty of bones and bodies being crushed, but not much blood. I mean, come on, this is war and battle we are talking about. Seeing it getting the PG-13 treatment feels like a bit of a cheat, but perhaps there is a director’s cut just waiting around the corner.

Regardless, “The Woman King” is both thrilling and endlessly enthralling throughout, and it would be a shame if you missed it on the silver screen. And when you walk out of the theater, the only words you should say, particularly about Viola Davis, is “not bad for a human.”

* * * ½ out * * * *

‘Elvis’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * out of * * * *

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

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

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

Special Features:

Bigger Than Life: The Making of ELVIS

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

Fit for a King; The Style of ELVIS

Viva Australia: Recreating Iconic Locations for ELVIS

“Trouble” Lyric Video

Should You Buy It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * out of * * * *