‘The Many Saints of Newark’ – ‘The Sopranos’ Prequel Drags When it Should Entertain

I guess it was inevitable that David Chase would eventually revisit the world he created with “The Sopranos,” one of the greatest television shows ever. Vince Gilligan did the same with “El Camino,” the sequel to his acclaimed series “Breaking Bad,” and now Chase gives us “The Many Saints of Newark,” a prequel to “The Sopranos.” But while “El Camino” proved to be excellent, this prequel ends up being nowhere as enthralling as even the average “Sopranos” episode. As much as I wanted to like it, I came out of it feeling rather disappointed.

“The Many Saints of Newark” comes with the tagline “Who Made Tony Soprano?” But while Tony is a major character, this movie focuses more on a violent gang war which takes place during the 1960’s and 1970’s in Newark, New Jersey. The main character of this piece is Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), a soldier in the DiMeo crime family who is also Tony’s uncle. As the story begins, Dickie and Tony are welcoming Dickie’s father, “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti (Ray Liotta) who has just arrived back in America with his new Italian wife, Giuseppina. On the surface, everything and anything seems possible to all the characters, but we know eventually that everything will come crashing down upon them before they know it.

A pivotal moment occurs for Dickie at one point (you’ll know it when it comes), and he ends up visiting his dad’s twin brother, Salvatore “Sally” Moltisanti (also played by Liotta), in the hopes of doing some good deeds which will absolve his soul. It is during these conversations where Salvatore tells Dickie, “Pain comes from always wanting things.” This reminds me of what Mr. Spock once said on the original “Star Trek” series:

“After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”

Salvatore comes to discover this the hard way. While he is serious about doing good deeds, some of us may remember how the road to hell is paved with them, and this is certainly the case here.

The screenplay, which Chase wrote with Lawrence Konner, paints a rich canvas for everyone to work with as it confronts the racial strife in Newark back in the 60’s and 70’s. We watch as African Americans riot against the racist police who abused a black taxi driver just because he was black, and it serves as a depressing reminder of how many still will not learn from history as America remains engulfed all these years later.

At the same time, Chase, Konner and director Alan Taylor, who directed many of the best “Sopranos” episodes, have given themselves too much to work with. While they have vividly captured a turbulent past, the screenplay lacks a center for which to hang everything on, and the movie ends up dragging far too often. As a result, I found my attention wandering in a way I never would have during any “Sopranos” episode.

There is a subplot involving Harold McBrayer (Leslie Odom Jr.) who has returned to Newark to start his own black-led crime operation. The actions of his gang lead to some moments of truly shocking violence which “The Sopranos” was known for, but this does little to alleviate the times where this prequel drags as no one seems to be able to balance out this subplot with all the other varying storylines.

I also got to say there are far too many obvious odes to “Goodfellas” throughout. Maybe I am a little biased because Martin Scorsese’s 1990 crime classic remains my all-time favorite movie, but seeing Ray Liotta getting his head smashed into a steering wheel several times over just takes me out of the story for no good reason.

For me, I was hoping “The Many Saints of Newark” would focus more on Tony Soprano as he is presented here as a young adult, and it was fascinating to see how intelligent he was even when he does not apply himself at school. A lot of this has to do with the performance of Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini who originated this iconic role. It is tempting to say Michael got cast because of resemblance to his father, but he did in fact had to audition which was smart. From start to finish, he does a tremendous job of showing Tony to be a confused kid who struggles to find meaning in his life as he is forced to deal with an absent father and an ineffectual mother. As a result, it is no wonder he looks up to his Uncle Dickie, the only one adult who seems to be looking out for him. Michael is terrific and, more importantly, he makes this role his own.

It feels like it has been far too long since I have seen Alessandro Nivola in anything. I still remember him best for being Nicolas Cage’s brother in “Face/Off” and for playing the guy dumb enough to steal some velociraptor eggs in “Jurassic Park III.” But he is excellent here as Dickie Moltisanti, a man who wants to do some good deeds after having performed a number of heinous ones. Still, Dickie is a man whose passions typically get the best of him, and Nivola is great at showing the constant struggles he endures while struggling with a lifestyle which could see him get killed at any moment.

Indeed, there are many great performances throughout. While some have no choice but to inhabit younger versions of “Sopranos” characters to where they offer mere impersonations of them, others are a bit luckier. Vera Farmiga is tremendous as Livia Soprano, the same role made famous by the late great Nancy Marchand, to where if she decided to utter “I wish the lord would take me,” I would have been perfectly fine with that. In addition, John Bernthal makes for a very tough Johnny Soprano, Corey Stoll is excellent as Junior Soprano, and it is fascinating to watch Michela De Rossi as she makes Giuseppina Moltisanti evolve effortlessly from one scene to the next.

I do have some reservations, however, when it comes to Liotta, or half of Liotta anyway. As “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti, he overacts to a painful degree as he tries to look and sound older than he really is. Watching him as this character was a bit unnerving, and thankfully this character disappears from the proceedings early on.  

But as the incarcerated Salvatore Moltisanti, Liotta brings an understated menace, the same kind he utilized in “Unlawful Entry,” which makes his performance one of the most compelling here as he dispenses advice which everyone around him would do best to take seriously. Plus, I love how the actor does not have to do much to show how serious Salvatore is about jazz. Seeing him stare at a Miles Davis vinyl record shows the kind of heaven this character seeks in life, and that’s even if it doesn’t bring a smile to his face.

And in a series where the dead characters are still hovering the lives of the living, I liked how Michael Imperioli returns to narrate this movie as Christopher Moltisanti as the character attempts to illustrate how Tony Soprano became Tony Soprano. There’s even a scene when Tony first meets Christopher as a baby, and it proves to be ahaunting sign of things to come.

Look, if you are a fan of “The Sopranos,” you are bound to see “The Many Saints of Newark” at some point. What we got here is not a bad movie, and I am thankful that it is not the kind of prequel which hurriedly tries to tie everything together to match up with the events of the show. Still, despite some strong writing and performances, this movie is unbalanced and is nowhere as enthralling as a “Sopranos” episode should be. It sucks to call this a missed opportunity, but it is what it is. There is a lot to admire, but not enough to enjoy.

And if you are interested, yes, Alabama 3’s “Woke Up This Morning” is featured here. It would be blasphemy for any “Sopranos” episode or movie to be absent of it.

* * ½ out of * * * *

WRITER’S NOTE: “The Many Saints of Newark” is the latest film to be released theatrically while simultaneously being given a month-long streaming release on HBO Max. I have long since found this form of release to be counter-productive as, while it may benefit HBO Max, it completely devalues the theatrical experience. While the COVID pandemic is still a big thing, I truly believe this type of release is one of the main reasons as to why “The Suicide Squad,” “Cry Macho,” “Malignant” and this prequel are dying quickly at the box office. I shudder to think what this will do to “Dune” and “The Matrix Resurrections” as they are being released in the same way, and these two movies demand to be seen on the silver screen. The sooner this simultaneous release pattern ends, the better.  

‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

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

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do” It is yet another intense, smart, funny and well-acted journey in this universe created over a number of films.  It really starts and ends with the love between Ed and Lorraine Warren, played perfectly by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. The chemistry between the two actors is off the charts. It is so good you would almost believe they are together in real-life. That is top-notch acting. They have also appeared together in “The Nun” and “Annabelle Comes Home.”  The formula works, and I’d be happy with even more “Conjuring” or “Annabelle” films featuring the two of them in the future.

When you have had so many films and various spin-offs, one would imagine they would have run their course by now.  However, this is still a solid flick, even though it is probably the weakest of the three films.  That is not a criticism, as they are all entertaining and enjoyable in their own way.  In “The Conjuring 3” (let’s stick with that title), Ed and Lorraine Warren are overseeing an exorcism of an innocent eight-year-old young boy named David. At this exorcism, his family is there, along with Arne (his sister’s boyfriend) and Father Gordon.  Once this demon starts to really do a number on David, Arne (Ruairi O’Connor) tells the demon to take over his body instead of David, despite Ed telling him it is not a good idea.

Ed suffers a heart attack, which sets him back for a while.  When he finally starts to feel better, he realizes the demon is inside of Arne, and it has to be stopped before more damage is done to other unsuspecting individuals.  He can see bad things around the corner for anyone who is near Arne.  Arne is in danger as well.  Together, as only they can, Ed and Lorraine Warren decide to take this demon down and remove it from the body of Arne and restore some sense of normalcy to all of their lives. Even though they encounter their share of doubters and second-guessers, they know what is really going on and will stick to their beliefs.

Without giving too much away, there is a courtroom element to the film that truly enhances it in a unique way.  It talks about how demonic possession can cause someone to do things they normally wouldn’t do if they weren’t possessed by a demon.  It is almost like the insanity plea a lot of people deal with in the courtroom.  This was a nice touch to the film.  Another thing which is consistent throughout “The Conjuring” films is how they really give you a sense of place and time. This film takes place in 1981, and from the clothes, the music and scenery, you really feel like you are in the early 80’s.  The devil (no pun intended) is in the details with these movies.

The issue with “The Conjuring 3” is the fact it is almost two-hours long.  There are times where the film can feel a little long in the tooth and drag.  It did not need to be this long.  I found myself clock-watching during certain scenes.  Even though I mentioned the devil is in the details, there are some details which can be left out, as not everything needs to be explained to such an extreme degree here.  I’m more interested in the necessary details and the background.  It feels like they are over-explaining things at times to the audience.

Many people ask me after watching one of these films, “Was it scary?” Truth be told, I don’t get scared by movies, really. That is not a knock against the film or any of the people involved in its making.  For me, what makes “The Conjuring 3” an enjoyable watch is the two main actors, their charm and chemistry, the background on these cases (based on true stories) and the way the films are directed and put together. Even though it is the weakest of the three films, it is still an enjoyable ride to take because they take it seriously and put effort into making sure they are producing quality films and not just a sequel for the sake of a sequel.

* * * out of * * * *

Blu-Ray Info: “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do” It is released on a single-disc Blu-Ray from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. The film is rated R for terror, violence and some disturbing images. It has a running time of 112 minutes.

Video/Audio Info: The film is presented in 1080p High Definition with audio formats of Dolby Atmos-TrueHD: English, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, English, Spanish and French. Subtitles are included in English, French and Spanish.

Special Features:

By Reason of Demonic Possession-An in-depth look at the true story that inspired the movie

The Occultist-Meet the terrifying new addition to the Conjuring Universe

Exorcism of Fear-Delve into the making of the movie and the chilling exorcism scene that opens the film

DC Horror Presents: The Conjuring: The Lover #1-A Video Comic that goes deeper into the Conjuring Universe.

Should You Buy It?

If you own the “Annabelle” films and the previous two “Conjuring” films like I do, you are going to want to add “The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It” to your collection.  There are some really cool special features here that really add a unique backstory to what you have seen in the film.  Also, the opening scene might be one of the best I’ve seen in a horror film in quite some time. Once again, I cannot praise the work of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga enough. They are the heart and soul of the film.  Without them, the story and the intensity simply do not work. They are a couple to root for and a couple that is interested in helping people.  While the running time can stop the film’s momentum occasionally, this is still worth owning and checking out. As long as Wilson and Farmiga keep coming back for these movies and the filmmakers keep finding case files from the Warrens, I’ll keep coming back to watch them.

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

‘Those Who Wish Me Dead’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

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

I remember being blown away when I walked out of the theater after watching Taylor Sheridan’s 2017 directorial debut in “Wind River,” which he also wrote. He’s an accomplished writer having written such films as “Sicario,” “Hell or High Water,” and also a number of episodes of “Yellowstone.” While “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is not as powerful and emotional of a film as “Wind River,” it still shows he has a great eye behind the camera and knows how to get powerful performances out of his actors.  He also knows how to build suspense while also keeping a lean pace to his films.  I look forward to what he has up his sleeve next as a writer and director.

Even though he shares the screenwriting credits with Michael Koryta (based on his book of the same name) and Charles Leavitt, his touches are still all over this film. With any thriller, you need to capture the attention of the audience right away.  Sheridan does this by introducing us to Hannah, played brilliantly by Angelina Jolie.  Jolie has always been an underrated actress, but here, she gets to show off her acting chops in an impressive and understated fashion. Hannah is still traumatized by the fact that in her role as a smoke-jumper, three young lives were lost.  She feels completely responsible for it, even though there is always more to the story. Many nights, it is hard for her to fall asleep comfortably without horrible nightmares.

Hannah, however, gets a chance to redeem herself when she stumbles upon an injured and scared 12-year-old boy named Connor (Finn Little), who is all alone due to circumstances beyond his control. Together, they form an unlikely pairing where they must work together in order to stay alive, as Connor has some information which two very bad men are looking for, and they will stop at nothing to obtain from him.  Even though Hannah has the training and the skills, it’s difficult when there is a tremendous fire heading their way at the same time.  This is a film which starts off by allowing us to spend time with the characters, get to know them and care about them.  It’s one of the reasons why it is so effective.

Finn Little and Jolie work so well together. At first, Connor wants nothing to do with Hannah and pushes her away. When he realizes it’s a 12-mile trek to get any help, he quickly realizes he has no choice.  Even though there are horrible lighting storms going on and this intense chase, Sheridan takes time to allow the audience to have a laugh here and there along with some tender moments.  There is also a side story involving Hannah’s ex, played perfectly by the always reliable Jon Bernthal. He still cares about Hannah and her well-being, but he’s also involved in a committed relationship and has a child on the way with Allison (Medina Senghore).

The bad guys are played by Nicholas Hoult and Aidan Gillen. They do a great job in portraying the villains without trying too hard to where they are over-the-top characters. It is more the threat of violence and their presence. Going back to the overall film, I’ve always enjoyed a thriller which knows how to have a good running time. This film runs at 100 minutes, and there is never a dull moment.  It didn’t need to be any longer or any shorter, and it is fine exactly as it is thanks to the performances, the pacing and the action.  They all work together so well.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with “Those Who Me Dead,” but it did remind me what a tremendous actress Jolie is and reinforced the fact that Sheridan is a director who is going to be making more thrilling action films in the future I look forward to watching.  The stakes are high and, as an audience member, we feel that urgency.  He’s also emotionally investing time in his characters, so we are happy to spend time with them.  We are also rooting for them and care about their fate.  This is one of the better films I’ve seen in 2021 so far.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Blu-Ray Info: “Those Who Wish Me Dead” is released on a single disc Blu-ray from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It runs at 100 minutes and is rated R for strong violence and language throughout. It also comes with the digital copy as well.

Video Info: The film is presented in 1080p High Definition, and the picture is crystal clear, bright, and incredibly vivid.

Audio Info: The audio comes in DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, French and Spanish. Subtitles are in English, Spanish and French.

Special Features: Making Those Who Wish Me Dead

Should You Buy It?

“Those Who Wish Me Dead” is a great star vehicle for Angelina Jolie, and she knocks it out of the park. As a matter of fact, the cast, top to bottom, is great and there is not a weak link in it. Finn Little really holds his own in his scenes with Jolie. I don’t think the film works without their chemistry. They have a strong bond together. It’s a gorgeous film to look at, and it’s great entertainment. I highly recommend you pick this film up the next time you are out at your local retailer.  You won’t regret it.  It’s one of the more surprising movies of 2021.

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

‘It Chapter Two’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

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

It Chapter 2” was a film that I really thought was going to add to what the previous film had done back in 2017. I was very impressed with the chemistry of the children and especially with Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise.  He brought a whole new element of creepiness to the mix.  When you have a clown scaring children, it is the perfect combination for an entertaining yet disturbing horror flick.  Sadly, when they are adults, it does not have quite the same impact. The film is also held back by its nearly three-hour running time.  With some films, the running time is not always noticeable because of how it is edited. In this case, however, they could have cut close to a half-hour from the film, and it would have made a major difference.

Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) has stayed in Derry, Maine for the past twenty-seven years in what appears to be a dungeon of sorts.  He has been waiting for Pennywise to return. Now, Pennywise has returned, and Mike decides to get the Losers Club back together because of the pact they made when they were children to end him once and for all, if he ever came back.  Sadly, there is little in the way of backstory when it comes to the adults in this flick.

Richie Tozier is played by Bill Hader, which on paper sounds like a perfect casting decision.  I don’t know if this was Hader doing improv during shooting or if this was in the script, but you can tell when he is about to make a joke, and the jokes are not funny and feel forced. Jessica Chastain is the star of the show as Beverly Marsh, and she brings the right amount of humanity, vulnerability, and strength to this role. James McAvoy also delivers a strong performance as Bill Denbrough. As for Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), he is no longer the overweight kid from the previous film.  He has lost a lot of weight and is still pining over Beverly all these years later, even having her signature from his yearbook in his wallet.

From a visual perspective, James Ransone as Eddie Kaspbrak is a great casting choice, as he looks almost exactly like the child actor he is portraying as an adult. Andy Bean rounds out the Losers Club as Stanley Uris.  The magic word in an ensemble movie is chemistry and, I am sad to say, they do not have much of it together, and this really puts a damper on the proceedings.  I remember watching the original film and its special features, and the kids really clicked on and off set. It is what made the film so powerful and enjoyable.  Here, it feels like a bunch of actors are thrown together just for the sake of ending the story.

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Another major issue with the film is how infrequently they use Pennywise.  In the first film, he is shown here and there, but the power of his presence is undeniable.  In this second chapter, he almost seems like an afterthought.  He is shown only a handful of times in the first two hours before showing up for the finale.  While some might say this was done to build things up and leave the audience wanting more, it instead focuses too much on the individual characters and their lackluster backstories.   They have not changed much in twenty-seven years, and this is not a good thing.

What is most maddening about “It Chapter 2” is how individual scenes are so powerful and impactful. This is frustrating because it makes you wish more of the film had that type of feeling to it.  Instead, the film is bogged down in going from the past to the present, and it does not have a flow to it.  There is no rhythm or consistency, and it is overstuffed.  There are things to like in “It Chapter 2,” but you have to suffer through a lot of tedious and unnecessary scenes to get to them and enjoy them.  This is one of the most frustrating films I have seen in 2019 because of how good it could have been if they had a clear vision on what they wanted to do from start to finish.

* * out of * * * *

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Blu-Ray Info: “It Chapter 2” is released on a three-disc Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It has a running time of 169 minutes. It is rated R for disturbing violent and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material.  One disc is the DVD, one is the Blu-Ray, and the final disc is the bonus disc with all of the special features.

Audio Info:  The audio for the film is presented in Dolby Atmos-TrueHD: English, English Descriptive Audio, and Dolby Digital: English, French, and Spanish.  The audio is tremendous, and it is really effective during the more anxious scenes in the movie. Subtitles are also in English, French, and Spanish.

Video Info: The 1080p high definition transfer of the film looks outstanding.  It is dark in the right moments when the tension calls for it. When scenes are in broad daylight it is really bright and vibrant.

Special Features:

The Summer of It: Chapter One, You’ll Float Too and The Summer of It: Chapter Two, It Ends

Pennywise Lives Again

The Meeting of the Losers Club Has Officially Begun

Finding the Deadlights

Commentary by Director Andy Muschietti

 

Should You Buy It?

I am not mad at “It Chapter 2.”  I am just disappointed.  It is clear everyone involved here wanted to make a great film, but maybe they should have waited a little bit longer in terms of its release date.  I know we live in a world where people want things right now, but if they were going to finish this up properly, they should have really taken their time to get it done properly.  There is too much movie here.

There are a ton of great special features, however.  There are so many special features that they had to add an extra disc to the set which is a nice touch. I appreciate the effort they put into this Blu-ray from that aspect as well as the audio and visuals.  There are hints of greatness here, but the final product of the film left me feeling underwhelmed. There is a really good movie somewhere in here, but it gets lost in a sea of mediocrity. If you want to own both films, I would buy this one when it goes on sale.

 

‘Annabelle Comes Home’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

Annabelle Comes Home Blu Ray cover

The following is written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent Tony Farinella.

Annabelle Comes Home” is the third film in the “Annabelle” franchise.  I would rank it as the second best in the series.  My order goes like this: “Annabelle: Creation,” “Annabelle Comes Home,” and “Annabelle.”  When you throw “The Conjuring” universe into it, it can be a little bit more difficult to rank them.  Because of this, I am going to keep it strictly to the “Annabelle” films when ranking them. “Annabelle: Creation” was a prequel, but this one is a sequel to the original “Annabelle” film. Ed and Lorraine Warren take the Annabelle doll home after the destruction she caused in the first film.  They have a room where they keep all of the evil things locked away.  However, Annabelle is so malevolent, a priest comes by the house twice a month to bless the doll.

When Ed and Lorraine Warren go away on business, they need someone to babysit their daughter Judy, played perfectly by Mckenna Grace.  The terror and fear she expresses on her face and throughout the film is simply off the charts.  Judy has a hard time making friends because people think her parents are strange and a little off-kilter because of their profession.  They are Demonologists.  If you are new to this franchise, Ed and Lorraine Warren are real.  As a matter of fact, Lorraine recently passed away, unfortunately.  They are played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, and since the two of them have been playing the couple for so long, their chemistry and timing is just about flawless.

Sadly, they only show up at the start of the film, and they don’t reappear until the end of it.  When they are on screen, the film is really taken up a notch.  There is good news, though, and it is those two terrific actresses Madison Iseman and Katie Sarife who play the babysitter, Mary Ellen, and her best friend Daniela.  When you throw in Grace, you have three young leads who carry the movie throughout its running time.  There is also a love interest named Bob (Michael Cimino) with great comedic timing and a running gag about his name.  They are the ones stuck dealing with Annabelle when she gets released from her glass case.

Annabelle Comes Home photo

Now, a lot of people have a problem with films which have jump scares.  There are a few jump scares in this flick, but they are really built up by the suspense and pacing which is set by director Gary Dauberman.  This is his first time behind the camera as a director, and he shows a sure hand in setting the mood.  The set design is also terrific along with the costume design, as the 1970’s look is spot-on throughout the film.  It is easy to see they spent a lot of time working on getting the little details right as it shows in the final product.  Dauberman has also written “It Chapter 2,” “Annabelle,” “Annabelle: Creation,” and he was one of the writers on the first “It” in 2017. He knows the horror genre, and he knows the “Annabelle” franchise.  He also wrote this film based off a story he created with James Wan.

When all is said and done, this is an entertaining ride.  It starts with the acting, first and foremost, as mentioned.  If the young actors are not up to the task of showing terror and making the audience believe, the film is going to fail.  It falls on their shoulders, as they are put in charge of leading the way when Wilson and Farmiga disappear for a good chunk of the film.  They carry the movie on their shoulders, and they do not disappoint in the least.  They raise the level of the film with their acting.  Casting is so important in a film like this.

Also, Dauberman proves here he should be put in charge of more horror films as a writer and director. He knows how to use silence to his advantage, and he also truly cares about his characters as well.  There is a reason why Annabelle returns. Without giving too much away, many times characters in horror films make poor decisions.  When you find out why Annabelle is unleashed here, you understand it’s for an emotional reason which makes sense.  It is not just a plot device to get her to be part of the film.   I enjoyed myself a lot more than I thought I would with this third installment in this franchise.

* * * out of * * * *

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Blu-Ray Info: “Annabelle Comes Home” is released on a two-disc Blu-Ray Combo Pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  It also comes with a digital copy as well.  The film has a running time of 106 minutes.  It is rated R for horror violence and terror, although I felt as though it could have been PG-13 as the horror violence is rather tame.

Audio Info: The audio on the film is Dolby Atmos-TrueHD: English, English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: French 5.1 (Dubbed in Quebec), and Dolby Digital: Spanish 5.1. Subtitles are in English, Spanish, and French.  The film sounds great, and the tension is built up perfectly by the eerie soundtrack without it banging you over the head.

Video Info: The video format is 1080p High Definition 16×9, 2.4:1.  The picture is crystal clear, sharp, and very vivid.  It looks great on Blu-Ray.

Special Features:

Behind the Scenes: The Ferryman/Demon (05:18), The Bloody Bride (02:57), and The Werewolf (03:07):  These are characters which show up throughout the film.  On this special feature, we get to meet the actors who portrayed them and see what they went through in order to get properly prepped with make-up, effects and costumes.  It leaves the audience wondering if any of these characters will be turned into films, which is something the director hints at on these special features. Dauberman and Wan discuss what they were thinking when coming up with the characters together and how the behind-the-scenes team made them into a reality.

The Artifact Room and the Occult (05:07):  This focuses on the infamous artifact room that is in the Warren’s house.  They wanted to add some new artifacts they were not able to introduce in other films, according to Wan.  There are some very cool pieces and Easter eggs they added to the room.

The Light and The Love (04:26):  They talk about the love between Ed and Lorraine, which really is the heart and soul of the film.  While the scares are great and the stories are terrifying, it is Ed and Lorraine who really stand out.  These are two-dimensional human beings played by Wilson and Farmiga, and you can tell they have a lot of love for the real Ed and Lorraine Warren. The chemistry and connection they share on screen is hard to ignore.  There is an element of fun which is really needed in these films without being too cheesy. They talk about how they love being able to play the scary scenes along with the family drama as well.  It’s a good balance.

Seven Deleted Scenes (11:28):  Seven deleted scenes are added here, including an alternate ending.  I thought the running time of the film was just right, and the filmmakers hit all of the right notes.  Most of the deleted scenes are just more time spent with the characters which is fine, but it is not really necessary in the big picture of the film. However, there is one particular scene where Mary Ellen opens up about a near-death experience that is very powerful and should have been used in the film.  The alternate ending is nowhere near as good as the one in the film, so I’m glad they didn’t use it. The alternate ending is very clichéd and predictable.

 

Should You Buy It?

If you are a fan of “The Conjuring” universe or the “Annabelle” films, you will be happy to know they are still churning out quality movies with great performances and effective scares.  If you take away “The Nun” and “The Curse of La Llorona,” you have three really good movies (“The Conjuring,” “The Conjuring 2” and “Annabelle: Creation”) and two good ones in (“Annabelle” and “Annabelle Comes Home”). I was close to putting “Annabelle Comes Home” in the really good category, but it just misses the mark.  However, it is still a good film and one worth adding to your collection if you own the good movies.  I own five out of the seven films.  There are special features and an alternate ending, but I wish they had gone into more depth with the special features. A commentary track would have been great as well. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great, which is always the case with Warner Brothers on their new release films.  This is a day-one purchase for hardcore fans of the franchise or the universe, however you wish to describe it.

Andy Serkis on Returning to Play Gollum in ‘The Hobbit’

Gollum in The Hobbit

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2012.

It is a thrill to see Andy Serkis return to the role of Gollum in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” While we marvel at the special effects which gave Gollum his unique if wretched look, it was Serkis who breathed life into the character in a way no one else could. His success in “The Lord of the Rings” got him cast in “King Kong” in which he portrayed the big ape, and audiences were begging to see him get an Oscar nomination for his brilliant performance as Caesar in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Seeing Serkis return to the role that made him a star brings everything around full circle for the actor, and we are constantly fascinated at how he approaches roles that surround him with a wealth of special effects.

Serkis first played Gollum over a decade ago, and the character was 600 years old back then. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” takes place sixty years before the events in “The Lord of the Rings” so he looks a little better here, but that is not saying much. But what has really changed about how Serkis plays Gollum is the technology involved in filmmaking. While “The Lord of the Rings” movies were shot on film, “The Hobbit” was made digitally. Serkis talked with Fox News’ Ashley Dvorkin about the differences this time around.

“So I was acting with Elijah Wood and Sean Astin and we would all play out the scenes together, so that hasn’t changed,” Serkis told Dvorkin. “But the thing that’s changed is that I had to then go and shoot it again on the motion capture stage. So I had to repeat everything twice. So I shot everything twice in effect. Whereas 12 years later, now we have full performance capture on set so I can just play the scene once – I’ve got a head mounted camera which is capturing all my facial expressions. The suit is able to act in a live action set and we just played the scene like, two conventional actors playing the scene with each other. So it’s much, much better.”

Gollum, be it in “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Hobbit,” has always resembled a heroin addict who is relentlessly eager for his next fix. In talking with Katy Steinmetz of Time Magazine, Serkis said the character’s physicality was “borne out of his addiction to the ring.” The way he describes it, this really was the best way for him to fully inhabit the character, and he talked about the inspirations which played a part in his performance.

“His personality, the involuntary way in which his body spasms when the word Gollum comes out of his mouth, is connected to the guilt that he carries with him in his throat from murdering his cousin,” Serkis told Steinmetz. “He is described by Tolkien in many different ways, as a puppy with Frodo and a spider and a frog. I based him a lot on Francis Bacon’s paintings, the agony and torture, which are in turn based on Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs. The references for me were very layered.”

Seeing Gollum move all over, as if he is completely incapable of staying in one place for more than a couple of seconds at a time, makes this seem like one of the most physically demanding roles any actor could take on in their career. I am constantly interested in how Serkis can keep his energy up while playing a character like this as he must get worn out often while on set. He went into more detail with James Rocchi of MSN Entertainment about just how physical playing Gollum is for him.

“It’s very physical. Gollum is an incredibly physical role,” Serkis told Rocchi. “And it’s a combination of physicality and of course vocal. They’re so entwined with each other, so meshed with each other. It’s a pretty exhausting role, but I had such fun playing it with Martin (Freeman who plays Bilbo Baggins). It (the cave scene where they first meet) was the very first thing we shot on the movie as well. It was day one of 276 days of shooting, and there was I was face to face with Martin finding his way into playing Bilbo. And we shot the scene in its entirety every single time. And then Pete would move the camera between takes and let us roll it again. We would just play the whole scene out. And it was really, really exciting when we’re doing it.”

After playing Gollum in several movies, you might think Serkis would be sick to death of this role by now. However, this does not prove to be the case as the character has had a huge impact on his life. He even told Dvorkin he has a full-sized sculpture of Gollum made by WETA (the digital visual effects company based in Wellington, New Zealand) sitting in his office at his home. Even he is not blind as to the positive impact Gollum has had on his acting career as a whole.

“He’s been like a watershed character for me twice in my life now,” Serkis told Dvorkin. “First of all because not only because he is an amazing character to play the first time around but it was also the beginning of this journey into a performance capture which has enabled me to play so many other amazing roles. By virtue of the fact of him arriving that whole other list of characters has been what I’ve been working on the last decade. And then coming back full circle to playing him again in ‘The Hobbit’ also has brought me to directing. So both times, he’s not only been this amazing creature and great character to explore, but has shifted my life.”

It looks like we will be seeing more of Andy Serkis as Gollum in the future as Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” is now being expanded into three movies instead of just two. Many fans still have some issues with this as J.R.R. Tolkien novel is only 300 pages long, but Serkis is more than confident in Jackson’s ability to pull this particular trilogy off. Since the actor has already spent a number of years working with Jackson, his belief in the director seems more than justified.

SOURCES:

Ashley Dvorkin, “‘The Hobbit’s’ Andy Serkis has full-size Gollum sculpture in his house,” Fox News, December 14, 2012.

Katy Steinmetz, “The Hobbit’s Andy Serkis on Getting Inside Gollum’s Skin,” Time Magazine, December 11, 2012.

James Rocchi, “Interview: Andy Serkis of ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,'” MSN Entertainment, December 17, 2012.

Martin Freeman on Playing Bilbo Baggins in ‘The Hobbit’

Martin Freeman The Hobbit photo

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2012.

He’s made a name for himself on BBC television shows like “The Office” and “Sherlock,” and he had the lead role of Arthur Dent in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” But now actor Martin Freeman gets his biggest role to date as Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” This character was previously portrayed by Ian Holm in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but Freeman now has the privilege of playing Bilbo in a movie which takes place sixty years before that trilogy’s beginning.

When it comes to portraying a character who has been played by a well-known actor in previous films, the task can seem quite daunting. Any actor in this position usually has to deal with a shadow hanging over them as their performance will always be compared to what came before. Holm’s Bilbo, however, functioned more as a cameo in “The Lord of the Rings” movies as he was only in them briefly. Furthermore, Freeman more than makes this role his own as he takes Bilbo from being someone who’s just minding their own business to someone willing to risk their life to help others. Still, you had to wonder if Freeman spent a lot of time studying Holm’s work in the previous films. Eventually, he cleared this up with Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub of the Collider website.

“I’ve watched the films again, obviously in more detail before I came to this. I looked at Ian’s (performance) more when I needed to. Again, I don’t really know how much I should say, but there were points where it was relevant for me to look very closely at Ian’s performance,” Freeman told Weintraub. “But generally, no because I think we’re quite good. I know why I was cast; do you know what I mean? Because I think we’re not that dissimilar, physically or whatever else. I think if I was, I don’t know, Jeff Goldblum or someone, then I might be thinking right, hang on, if he’s the older me I’d better attend more to something else maybe. Well, grow, for a start. But no, ’cause I think I was always trusted with it.”

“All I was told, which I think was flattery, and probably bollocks, was you are the only person to play it. So, I thought, well if they think that, then I’ve got to trust that,” Freeman continued. “And there’s only so much you can run with someone else’s thing. It’s very helpful in the way that it’s brilliant as he is always brilliant, and it’s a beautiful establisher of that character and a very loved one for obvious reasons. But it can also hamper you if you’re thinking, like in the barrels, if there’s even part of me thinking, how would Ian have done this, then I’m fucked. So, I’ve got to let that go. I’ve always been mindful of it because I’m familiar with it. But I think the work for that connection was done in the casting of me, rather than what I’m then going to do on top of it.”

In an interview with Colin Covert of the Toledo Blade, Freeman described Bilbo as being neither “the main guy in the room” or an “alpha male.” Looking back at “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” this gave the actor a great starting off point as he has to take this character from being a timid and rather pompous man to one who acts selflessly. Freeman really gives an exceptional performance as Bilbo’s transition from a self-centered person to a warrior of sorts feels seamless and subtle. You never consciously catch the actor trying to shift his character in a certain direction because it all seems to come about naturally.

One of the movie’s pivotal scenes comes when Bilbo meets up with Gollum who is again played by the brilliant Andy Serkis. This scene was actually shot in the first week of production and apparently took a whole week to film. When it comes to CGI characters, the actors usually have to play opposite something or someone which isn’t there. Fortunately for Freeman, Serkis was there on set to give life to Gollum, and he talked with Meredith Woerner of i09 about what it was like working with Serkis.

“Andy feels real,” Freeman told Woerner. “Obviously he doesn’t look like Gollum, strictly speaking, but he’s being Gollum. And I’m an animal of the theater and you’re used to using your imagination. You don’t have to use your imagination that much when you hear that voice and see the physicality and you think, oh there’s Gollum. There’s a man or a creature that wants to eat me. It didn’t feel very cheated at all. Gollum is such a beloved character. There’s a special place in people’s hearts for Gollum, I think. People who love the books and the films are delighted he’s in this, I think.”

Seriously, Martin Freeman gives a pitch perfect performance as Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” to where you wonder if he and Ian Holm were actually separated at birth. This bodes well for the next two movies in Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy, and it will be interesting to see where Freeman takes this character from here.

One other thing; Freeman made it clear how Leonard Nimoy’s song “The Legend of Bilbo Baggins” did not play a big part in his research for the role.

“It helped me enjoy that three minutes of listening to it,” Freeman said of the song. “I’m still baffled by it.”

SOURCES:

Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub, “Martin Freeman Talks the Ring’s Impact on Bilbo, Being a Favorite for the Role & a Lot More on the Set of THE HOBBIT,” Collider, October 25, 2012.

Colin Covert, “Q&A; with ‘Hobbit’ Martin Freeman,” Toledo Blade, December 17, 2012.

Meredith Woerner, “The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman on dwarves, Gollum and Leonard Nimoy,” i09, December 16, 2012.

Thomas Jane on Playing Todd Parker in ‘Boogie Nights’

Boogie Nights Thomas Jane photo

WRITER’S NOTE: This is from a Q&A which took place on October 5, 2012.

Actor Thomas Jane was excited to be a guest at New Beverly Cinema as the theater presented the first day of their Paul Thomas Anderson movie marathon. One of the movie’s being shown this evening was “Boogie Nights” which served as Jane’s big acting breakthrough, and in it he plays dancer Todd Parker who becomes a dangerous friend to the characters played by Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly. During a Q&A which was moderated by Brian McQuery, Jane talked about how he prepared to play Todd and of what it was like working with Anderson.

One audience member asked Jane if he prepared a certain voice or walk for when he played Todd, and he replied he usually took the script for “Boogie Nights” to this theater he was working out of in Los Angeles where he could get his fellow actors to play all the other parts. It was there where Jane did a lot of experimentation which led him giving the role his own interpretation.

“I’d bring in funny glasses, do my hair crazy and try all this different stuff like bringing in a flowered shirt to wear,” Jane said. “I didn’t have any clue about who this guy was. I just knew that I was trying to find him, and then it just clicked in one day. I think it was the voice and just doing the scenes in my little theater off of Hyperion and Melrose. The first thing I found as an actor was the way Todd talked, and once I found that then everything else happened with the role.”

Jane first heard about “Boogie Nights” from casting director Christine Sheaks who had sent him the script which she said was “pretty amazing.” Upon reading the scene where Todd, along with Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild, go to rob a drug dealer, Jane said he was especially interested in playing Todd. Then, after doing an improvisation with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly in front of Anderson which lasted about fifteen minutes, he was cast in the role.

Looking back at shoot, Jane recollected much of what went on was improvised on set, and he attributed it to Anderson’s jazz-like direction.

“One thing that’s notable about the way Paul Thomas Anderson works is the freedom he gives to his actors,” Jane said. “We did have lines to say and stuff, but if you had an idea at the moment or a line to throw in or if something happens by mistake, he always encouraged that spontaneity and that freedom. That was what was so fun about working on ‘Boogie Nights.'”

When asked if he had any stories about the actors he worked with, Jane came up with a great one about Burt Reynolds. He talked about the scene where Wahlberg gets into a fight with Reynolds over wanting to shoot his sex scene now instead of later, and Anderson told Jane to fuck with Reynolds and “get in his face” once Wahlberg ran away. So, Jane started messing with Reynolds like Anderson asked him to and even pushed him, and Reynolds ended up kicking Jane right in the nuts.

“He thought the take was over and I was some punk actor getting in his face,” Jane said of Reynolds. “Paul Thomas Anderson didn’t tell Burt Reynolds that we were doing a little improvisation after the scene was over! To his (Reynold’s) credit, he gave me a bottle of champagne in my trailer the next day and he actually turned out to be really cool.”

There was also a lot of talk about the scene at the drug dealer’s house when Cosmo kept throwing fire crackers all over the place. It turns out the actor playing Cosmo was actually a friend of Anderson’s, and the fire crackers were not originally in the script. However, it got Anderson the reactions he wanted so he just put it into the movie. But since the scene was shot over several days, Anderson had to find other ways to keep the actors on their feet.

“The first day was all fire crackers, but then we had to recreate that over the next three days,” Jane said. “After the first twenty or thirty fire crackers go off you’re kind of over it, but then you can’t hear anymore. So, Paul brought a starting pistol in and he used a starting pistol for a while and then that got old. I remember he brought in a big couple of boards and was whacking those together. That was a brilliant scene because all that stuff made the tension so high.”

Thomas Jane has come a long way from his hungry days as an actor, and seeing him strut his way onto the screen in “Boogie Nights” showed us a star had arrived. For him, talking about this movie at New Beverly Cinema was very special as he said he got his film education there. He also remembered when Sherman Torgan was running the theater back then and of how he let Jane in for free, and that popcorn and candy bars served as his nightly dinner for a time.

Jane has since moved on from “Boogie Nights” to make a successful acting career for himself, and he still has many great performances left to give.

All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 – Dream Warriors’

Back when this particular horror sequel was released, Freddy Krueger was still a very frightening character. The burnt serial killer had yet to devolve into a stand-up comic, and just the thought of him hiding in the shadows of your dreams waiting to strike was enough to leave you unnerved. It’s a shame we have not yet seen a scene in any of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies where a teenager goes up to someone suffering from insomnia and tells them, “I envy you.”

Following this sequel, he ceased to be scary and became more of a cut-up than anything else, and we had to wait for “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” to see him as a truly threatening presence once again. But I never forgot what a haunting character Freddy was back in the 1980’s, and what I love about this teaser trailer for “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” is it seizes on how fearful we were of him to where we didn’t even need to see his face to know he was just around the corner. Just hearing that little girl singing “1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you” was enough to make your hairs stand on end. And once we got a look at the model of Nancy Thompson’s old house which resides on Genesee Avenue on Los Angeles, my eyes went wide upon the realization this was indeed a trailer for another “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie. And then the hand with the claws burst out of the model, and I wanted to hide my eyes from the screen…

This teaser trailer for “Dream Warriors” remains one of my favorite trailers as it proved to be one of the scariest ever, and it piqued my interest in a character I would become more intrigued with as I got older.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 Dream Warriors poster

All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘Austin Powers – The Spy Who Shagged Me’

It was December of 1998, and “Star Trek: Insurrection” just opened in movie theaters everywhere. At the time, I was a student at UC Irvine, and I had just wrapped up the last of my finals in the first quarter. To say that I was relieved was an understatement as I was minoring in English and made the mistake of taking three classes which left me with a boatload of reading and not nearly enough time to have a life outside of school. Once I was done, I didn’t even hesitate to celebrate, and I drove straight out to the Irvine Spectrum Center where “Star Trek: Insurrection” was playing.

But while the theater was filled with many people ready to boldly go with the crew of the starship Enterprise to where no one has gone before, the one thing foremost on our minds was if “Insurrection” would be preceded by the just released trailer for “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” It had been almost 16 years since “Return of the Jedi” came out, and now that a new “Star Wars” movie was on the horizon, it felt to many like the second coming of Christ.

As the lights went down, I could feel everyone around me holding their breath in anticipation and praying that the first movie trailer shown would be for “The Phantom Menace.” Sure enough, once we got past “the following preview has been approved for ALL AUDIENCES by the Motion Picture Association of America” title card, we were thrust into outer space and shown what looked to be the wreckage of the last Death Star. As the camera zoomed in on the chair where Emperor Palpatine once sat, the audience got super excited and started to cheer as they were convinced the first look at the next “Star Wars” movie was about to be unveiled. Instead, the chair turned around to reveal Michael Myers as Dr. Evil who, while holding Mr. Bigglesworth, said, “You were expecting somebody else?”

It was a brilliant move on the part of Myers, director Jay Roach and New Line Cinema to promote “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” in this way as it played on what we know about “Star Wars” and exploited it to great effect. Once we realized what was actually being promoted, we all responded enthusiastically as Myers danced with abandon as the title character and sported those glasses and the inescapably large teeth he had. Yay baby indeed!

I also loved it when the trailer’s narrator said the following:

“If you see only one movie this summer, see ‘Star Wars.’”

You have to admire New Line Cinema for admitting this as even they had to admit there was no way this long-awaited sequel was going to beat “The Phantom Menace” at the box office. Instead, they presented it as an underdog to where it was kindly asking audiences to give it a look after they watched the latest “Star Wars” movie for a second time. Hollywood and the studios which inhabit it are always out to promise audiences how this movie is a must-see, and yet here this particular studio, which has since been absorbed by Warner Brothers, admitted this one was not going to use the force the same way Lucasfilm was going to, and it worked to the advantage of this “Austin Powers” adventure.

This is one of those movie trailers, let alone teaser trailers, which has stayed with me after so many years. I still remember the great feeling and humorous effect it had on me and the rest of the audience. As a result, it has long since earned its place on my list of the greatest movie trailers ever made.

We did eventually get to see the first “Phantom Menace” trailer before “Star Trek: Insurrection” began, but while the audience gave it a thunderous response, there was no forgetting the mark Mr. Powers left on us beforehand.