‘The Polar Express’ Movie and 4K UHD Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * out of * * * *

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

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

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

Special Features:

You Look Familiar

A Genuine Ticket to Ride

True Inspirations: An Author’s Adventure

Behind the Scenes of “Believe”

Flurry of Effects

Smokey and Steamer

Josh Groban at the Greek

Meet The Snow Angels

Theatrical Trailer

THQ Game Demo

Should You Buy It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * ½ out of * * * *

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

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

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

Special Features:

Audio Commentary by Bob Clark and Peter Billingsley

Christmas in Ohio: A Christmas Story House

Another Christmas Story

Daisy Red Ryder: A History

Get a Leg Up

“Flash Gordon” Deleted Script Pages

The Leg Lamp Spot

Jean Shepherd Original Radio Reading

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

Flick’s Tongue

Theatrical Trailer

Should You Buy It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * out of * * * *

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

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

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

Special Features:

Commentary by Roger Ebert

Commentary by Rudy Behlmer

Introduction by Lauren Bacall

Warner Night at the Movies

Now, Voyager trailer

Newsreel

“Vaudeville Days” (1942 WB short)

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

“The Squawkin’ Hawk” (1942 WB cartoon)

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

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

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

Casablanca: An Unlikely Classic

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

As Time Goes By: The Children Remember

Deleted Scenes

Outtakes

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

“Carrotblanca” (1955 WB Cartoon)

Scoring Stage Sessions (audio only)

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

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

Trailers

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

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

‘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 * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Johnny Depp as John Dillinger from “Public Enemies”

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

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

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

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

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

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘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 * * * *

Underseen Movie: ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ – A Highly Unusual War Movie

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

“More of this is true than you would believe.”

You know something? It’s really nice to see a movie use a phrase other than “based on a true story” or “inspired by true events.” Those descriptions have all but lost their meaning because even if what we are seeing actually did happen, it has all been watered down into a formulaic feel-good movie we have seen over and over again to where we want to gag. Even worse, we keep getting suckered into seeing them even when we should know better. Either that, or there’s nothing better to watch. But this year has proven to be great as filmmakers have worked hard to subvert those worthless phrases with movies like “The Informant.” That Steven Soderbergh film made it very clear how it was based on actual events but that certain parts had been fictionalized, and it ended by saying:

“So there!”

Now we have “The Men Who Stare at Goats” which opens with the sentence at the top of this review. The story behind this one is so bizarre to where it’s almost impossible to believe any of what we are watching could ever have happened. All the same, it appears a good portion of these happenings did take place, and it makes for what is truly one of the more unique war movies I have seen in a while. The film is based on a non-fiction book by Jon Ronson which looked at how US military forces used psychic powers against their enemies. They look at New Age concepts as well as paranormal activities to achieve these goals, and of how they worked to use these methods to their advantage. The movie takes place during the Iraq war, but not to worry, the filmmakers is not trying to shove any politics down your throat (not consciously anyway).

Ronson serves as the inspiration for Bob Wilton, an investigative journalist played by Ewan McGregor. Bob’s wife has just left him for his editor and, of course, he is depressed and decides he needs to do something more important with his life in the hopes he can win her back. As a result, he travels to Kuwait to do firsthand reporting of the Iraq War, with hopes of finding someone who can get him across the border. Bob ends up having a chance meeting with a Special Forces operator named Lyn Cassady (George Clooney) who was in the military, but now runs a dance studio. Lyn reveals to Bob he was part of an American unit that was trained to be psychic spies or, as he eventually calls them, “Jedi warriors.” From there, Bob learns everything about this special unit which sounds like something out of a science fiction novel.

I love the irony of all the talk about “Jedi warriors” here, especially since McGregor played one in the “Star Wars” prequels.

Anyway, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” is really a cross between a war movie and a road movie as Lyn and Bob traverse the sandy dunes of the Middle East to where not everything is as it appears. This film is also a mix of comedy and drama the same way “Three Kings,” another war movie which starred Clooney, was. While the tone is largely uneven, especially towards the end, this was definitely an inspired film which kept me entertained throughout and proved to be quite unpredictable.

McGregor is playing the main character here, but let’s face it, Clooney steals the show right out from under his feet. His performance as Lyn Cassady is truly one of his most surprising and inspired. Despite how ridiculous Lyn may seem, Clooney plays him straight and never appears to be self-conscious. Seeing Clooney trying to burst clouds with his mind, and trying to reach into his enemy’s mind by staring right at them has the actor going through emotions ranging from serious to funny to downright tragic. Having gone from playing dramatic roles in movies like “Syriana” to “Michael Clayton,” Clooney once again shows he is really good at comedy and never has to strive hard for a laugh.

I don’t want to take away from McGregor though, who pulls off a convincing American accent. In many ways, his role is more of a reactionary one as he is subjected to conditions one is never fully prepared for. Bob is bewildered at what Lyn is telling him, and yet he still wants to journey further and further into Lyn’s head. I also have to give McGregor a lot of credit because he could have made it look like he was consciously aware of all those “Star Wars” references, but he never did.

But one of the great delights is watching Jeff Bridges channel his inner-dude-ness from “The Big Lebowski” into his role of Bill Django, a military leader who, after being wounded in Vietnam, has a New Age vision of combat he wants to develop. This leads him to study concepts which he incorporates into a special unit called the New Earth Army. Bill becomes a teacher of using non-lethal techniques to gain advantage over the enemy, and his training techniques are unorthodox to say the least. Bridges plays the character broadly, but not too broadly. As funny as Bridges is, he infuses Django with a disappointment which threatens to render him useless to those around him, and with a deep sense of fear and tragedy as his techniques are misused or taken advantage of by those who seek to profit from them.

Having been in London doing tons of theater, it seemed like it would require a herculean effort to bring Kevin Spacey back to the big screen. Seeing him here is a kick as he plays the real antagonist of the film, Larry Hooper. Larry is basically the Darth Vader to Bill’s Obi Wan Kenobi and Lyn’s Luke Skywalker as he takes the non-lethal methods of the New Earth Army and ends up using them for more lethal purposes. Larry ends up doing this not so much out of greed as he does resentment since Django does not consider him in the same light as Lyn. His actions bring about the downfall of the New Earth Army, and he turns all these abilities they developed into something far more insidious. From there, you will see why the movie and the book it is based on has the title it does.

Spacey has great fun as he channels the inner smugness which has enveloped Larry over time. While his role is a little more serious than the others, he still has great moments of comedy which remind us of what a talented actor he is as he balances out the serious and comedic aspects of Larry without tilting too much in one direction.

“The Men Who Stare at Goats” was directed by Grant Heslov, Clooney’s business partner on many films. He has his work cut out for him here as he must find a balance between the humorous and dramatic aspects of the story. Granted, Heslov doesn’t always succeed but he creates a most unusual war movie, and it is all the more entertaining as a result. Even more telling is the way he portrays the Iraqi people in certain scenes. They are not shown as gun toting terrorists, and he captures the look of their helplessness in having to deal with a military occupation they did not ask for.

Like I said, there’s no serious politicizing of the Iraq war in this movie, so don’t feel like you are walking into some sort of trap. Like “The Hurt Locker,” it merely focuses on what those Americans in Iraq were doing in the midst of the chaos, albeit in a more comical way. “The Men Who Stare at Goats” seems almost far too bizarre to be real, but a part of you just might want it to be real. One thing’s for sure, you will never look at “Barney and Friends” in the same way ever again, assuming you ever watched it in the first place (c’mon! Don’t deny it!).

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ Doesn’t Dig Deep Enough into the Marsh

After watching “Where the Crawdads Sing,” I immediately went out and purchased a copy of Delia Owens’ novel upon which it is based. Judging from the opening narration in which the main character of Catherine “Kya” Clark tells the audience how “marsh is not swamp” but instead is “a space of light where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky,” this cinematic adaptation looked to defy all the perceptions we typically have of such places on Earth. This is further emphasized by her describing how swamp exists within the marsh and is “quiet because decomposition is cellular work,” and how it “knows all about death, and doesn’t necessarily define it as tragedy, certainly not a sin.” This dialogue comes straight from Owens’ prose, and it stayed with me throughout the film’s 126-minute running time.

This cinematic adaptation of “Where the Crawdads Sing” comes to us from Reese Witherspoon who has gushed endlessly about how much she loves the novel, and she produced this film alongside Lauren Neustadter. The screenplay was written by Lucy Alibar who co-wrote “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and it was directed by Olivia Newman who is best known for her Netflix film “First Match.” Clearly, there is a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera here, and the appreciation everyone has for the source material cannot be doubted. Still, while this film held my attention throughout, I Pate’s came out of it thinking, couldn’t the filmmakers have dug into the material even deeper?

We first meet Kya as a young girl who lives with her family in the North Carolina marsh, and it is fun to watch her being embraced by her loving mother. But then we see her dad (played by Garret Dillahunt) is an abusive bastard who treats every member of his family like crap. From there, Kya’s mother and siblings leave their home one by one to where it is just her and dad, and she learns to survive his drunken wrath in more ways than one. But soon he disappears, and Kya is forced to fend for herself and survive on her own to where she copes with loneliness in a way few others do.

Indeed, seeing Kya grow up in the marsh to where we can believe she can more than survive on her own provides this film with its most interesting moments, but it is all surrounded by a courtroom drama which makes the proceedings feel utterly routine and ordinary. As the story begins, the police come upon the body of Chase Andrews (played by Harris Dickinson), a high school quarterback who had been in a relationship with Kya which ended on a bitter and violent note. People in town are quick to label Kya as the key suspect as they have always viewed her as an outsider to where they fear her for all the wrong reasons. It is not long before Kya is arrested and charged with his murder.

Part of my problem with this film is that it treats many of the characters as caricatures instead of fleshed out human beings. More often than not, the filmmakers only touch on the surface of these individuals instead of transcending their nature to present something more unique. While certain characters are given special attention, others are painted in broad strokes to where they could have come out of so many other motion pictures. The period detail is spot on as the film immerses us in the times and tribulations of the 1960’s, but it still feels like we are just watching events unfold instead of living them through Kya and everyone else.

One actor who elevates his material here is the great David Strathairn who co-stars as Kya’s defense attorney, Tom Milton. While the prosecuting attorney looks and acts like a Jake Brigance wannabe, Strathairn transcends his character’s mannerisms and background to give us a performance which feels alive and lived in. Not once does he ever give us a moment which feels false as his character comes out of retirement to defend Kya in her murder trial. At the start, he asks Kya to her that he cannot help her until het gets to know her better. His character becomes key from there to the story as, like him, we want everyone to see Kya as an individual instead of some odd human being who exists in the shadows where few others dare to travel to.

Speaking of Kya, the actress who plays her is Daisy Edgar-Jones, and her performance for me was worth the price of admission. She more than inhabits Kya to where the character never comes across as some female version of Tarzan, but instead one who merely exists in the marsh as it is the only home she has ever known and feels comfortable in. Jones also renders many scenes she appears in with heartbreaking honesty as we watch her discover love for the first time, and later heartbreak which is always devastating, especially for the young.

It is also worth singling out Jojo Regina who plays the younger Kya as she embodies the character at a fragile point in her life. She shows us how lost the young Kya is when she first goes to school and discovers how cruel children can be to someone different from them. More importantly, Regina sets the stage for Kya becoming wholly independent as she digs in the marsh for mussels to sell to the local general store. Watching her, I believe Regina gave Jones so much great stuff to work with.

I also enjoyed the performances of both Sterling Macer Jr. and Michael Hyatt as Jumpin and Mabel, the kindly African-American couple who own and run the local general store where boats get their gas. They respect and care they have for Kya is strong and shows through their eyes and actions. Plus, Mabel has one of the movie’s best lines as she rightly points out that the Bible says nothing about being careful.

But as for the rest of “Where the Crawdads Sing,” it all feels inescapably routine. Sure, the cinematography by Polly Morgan is gorgeous, the music score by Mychael Danna fits the material perfectly, and it is clear everyone here has great love for the source material. But in the process of being slavish to the novel, they don’t do enough bring everything it to life. I cannot help but believe this adaptation could have been given much more depth as this movie could have stood out in the same way Michael Apted’s “Nell,” which starred Jodie Foster as a similar individual raised away from civilization. While the novel may have given many a unique experience, this movie fails to do the same as it becomes like many we have seen time and time again.

I think it would have been best to focus much more on the trifecta of Kya, her first boyfriend Tate (Taylor John Smith), and her second boyfriend Chase. Where Kya is a child of the wilderness and the marsh, Tate has one foot in the civilized world and another in the wilderness, and Chase himself is a product of the civilized world which has given him a lot of bad ideas about social status and women. These relationships are dealt with, but in a rather shallow way with some acting which is too theatrical for motion pictures.

Heck, I would have liked to have seen more of Dillahunt as Pa as, from what I have read of the novel thus far, there is more to him than being just a drunken bully. Perhaps we could have been given more depth into this character as a result to where we could understand why he acts the way he does even as we rightly despise his actions. Still, the movie decides to keep him at arms’ length. Granted, the main focus is, and absolutely should be, on Kya, but perhaps knowing more about the key people in her life would have made her coming of age adventures all the more enthralling.

If you are a fan of the novel, I think you will have to see how the movie “Where the Crawdads Sings” compares to it. There is a lot to like about it, and again, Jones is simply wonderful in the lead role. But considering how beloved this novel is, I imagine many will come out of it feeling like more could have been done with the material.

For what it’s worth, both the movie and the novel serve as a reminder of how the civilized and uncivilized worlds don’t go by the same laws as survival takes on different forms in each. And remember, unlike animals, human beings are the only species to put their own in cages, behind bars.

* * ½ out of * * * *

‘Edge of Tomorrow’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

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

Edge of Tomorrow” is a film that, on paper, had all the ingredients for a film I would enjoy.  Tom Cruise has always been an actor who has never been afraid to really throw himself into a project.  He takes his work seriously, and it shows with the films he releases.  He has great quality control.  Emily Blunt is one of the best-working actresses in Hollywood with a ton of range and depth.  When you throw in director, Doug Liman (known for action films such as the “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”), it seemed like a recipe for a fun action film featuring some impressive action sequences and top-notch performances by its leads. However, the film forgot one of the most important ingredients of any truly successful action film: a great story.  It uses the Groundhog Day gimmick of repeating the same day over and over again.

A group of aliens, which are known as “Mimics,” are coming to destroy Earth.  They are fast, smart, and incredibly difficult to defeat. U.S. Army Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is thrown into the fire by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to help what is essentially a suicide mission against these Mimics. William Cage makes sure to tell him he has no combat experience, and he is not fit for any type of action. Brigham, however, is only looking out for himself, and he is looking to make Cage the fall guy. When he’s arrested and sent to Heathrow Airport, Cage soon discovers he is in way over his head. He’s part of a ragtag group of misfits known as the J-Squad.

Cage is killed instantly and starts to have the same day over and over again.  If this sounds familiar, it is because this formula has been used countless times in other films, most recently with the “Happy Death Day” franchise. During one of his multiple trips to France, he ends up meeting Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt).  It doesn’t take long for them to connect, and she reveals to Cage she also once had the same power he now possesses, where she had to repeat the same day over and over again.  She has since lost it.  If the two of them can team up, maybe together they can figure out a way to save the world from the Mimics.

“Edge of Tomorrow” is a very complicated film to follow at times. All of this talk about Mimics, alphas, betas, superorganisms and loops starts to become quite tedious after a while.  This should have just been a fun, easy-to-follow film with some action and laughs thrown in the mix.  There is plenty of action, in fact, there is too much of it.  At times, it really took me out of the film. A little bit of character development and a little time to stop and smell the roses would have been appreciated. Any great action film takes the time to really let us get to know about our main characters. We know absolutely nothing about them. Cruise and Blunt are entertaining when paired together, but it doesn’t take long for the film to resort to wall-to-wall action right away.

Between the convoluted story, the non-stop action and lack of character development, I found it hard to really get into “Edge of Tomorrow.” I can’t deny the special effects are impressive and the Mimics look really good, but I didn’t sign up for either of them though, I realize I’m in the minority on this 2014 film, which made quite an impression with a majority of critics. I truly wanted to like this film, and I was prepared to sit back and shut my brain off and enjoy myself for two hours. I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief for that long because the film was throwing too much at me with little rhyme or reason.  It didn’t take the time to explain things or to make us care about what was happening on screen.

* * out of * * * *

4K Info: “Edge of Tomorrow” is released on a two-disc 4K Combo Pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It comes with the 4K, Blu-ray, and a digital copy of the film.  It has a running time of 113 minutes and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive material.

Audio Info: The audio formats for this film are Dolby Atmos-TrueHD: English, DTS-HD MA: French, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, French, and Spanish. The film has subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. I’m always a huge fan of Dolby Atmos audio, and it really stands out in a film like this.

Video Info: The 4K is released on 2160p Ultra High Definition. The High Dynamic Range really makes the film look moody, dark, and shadowy. It’s an impressive looking 4K. The Blu-Ray is in 1080p High Definition.

Special Features:

Operation Downfall – Adrenaline Cut

Storming the Beach

Weapons of the Future

Creatures Not of This World

On The Edge with Doug Liman

Deleted Scenes

Should You Buy It?

Sadly, I can’t recommend you go out and purchase “Edge of Tomorrow.”  However, if you are a fan of the 2014 film, I would encourage you to upgrade from the Blu-ray to the 4K.  There is a noticeable difference between the two formats in terms of picture quality and audio.  It had been eight years since I watched the film, and I didn’t think much of it back then.  I thought maybe a second viewing would give me a new appreciation for the film.  I’m sad to report that is not the case.  It’s still not a film I enjoy or can recommend you pick up unless you own the Blu-ray and want the 4K experience.  I like all of the participants in the film, but the storyline has been done before and done better. The actors are really hampered by the exhausting script. It’s too much movie and there is no brain behind it.  The characters are also written without a lot of thought behind them. The film is simply eye candy with its special effects.

**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.