‘Elf’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

This review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

“Elf” is a movie which, for all intents and purposes, should have no right being as good as it is when you read its plot description. It’s about an adult elf named Buddy (Will Ferrell) who has been raised by elves. He doesn’t seem to realize that he doesn’t really fit in with the rest of elves, as he’s so much bigger than them and not able to perform some of their day-to-day tasks.  He was adopted by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) after Santa Claus (Ed Asner) took him in.  Before long, Papa Elf comes clean and tells Buddy his real father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), lives in New York.  Walter never knew he had a son because he was given up for adoption by his birth mother, Susan Wells, before she passed away.

For all his life, all Buddy has known is the North Pole.  He loves Christmas with all his heart and soul without being obnoxious about it. If Christmas ever had an ambassador, it would certainly be Buddy the Elf.  From here, the film has your fish-out-of-water storyline with Buddy, an oversized elf, trying to find his dad in New York and navigate the big city.  It provides for some hilarious moments as no one really notices the fact he’s dressed up like an elf.  It’s New York, after all. People dress up and portray other people all of the time, so he doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.  He even ends up being mistaken for an employee at Gimbels.

This is where he meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), someone who needs a little bit of a spark in her life as she’s struggling to find happiness and pay her bills. Buddy is the perfect person for her to meet because he’s always in a good mood, filled with Christmas spirit, and knows how to put a smile on her face. He also ends up meeting Walter who, at first, thinks Buddy is absolutely out of his mind.  There is no way he could have had a child thirty years ago, and there is no way it’s a human being who thinks he’s an elf. After taking a DNA test, he ends up finding out that Buddy is indeed his son and introduces him to his wife, Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and son Michael (Daniel Tay).

Emily immediately takes a liking to Buddy as he’s thoughtful, kind and a positive soul.  He might make a mess from time-to-time, but he’s so darn lovable that it’s hard to stay mad at him for too long. Michael, on the other hand, is not sure what to make of Buddy as he sees him as embarrassing.  Before long, he sees him as the older brother he never had since they have snowball fights together, and they eventually build a solid bond and connection.  Walter, however, is struggling with his work at a publishing company, and the last thing he needs right now is Buddy the Elf creating drama in his life.

The number one reason “Elf” works is the cast.  Let’s start with Will Ferrell.  This is a performance where he’s totally and completely committed to whatever the film asks him to do.  Sometimes, he needs to play it a little big and over-the-top, and he hits all of the right notes.  In other scenes, he needs to be a little more innocent and naïve, and he nails these aspects of the character.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing Buddy the Elf except for Ferrell.  He has the perfect straight man counterpart in James Caan. This is not the type of film you would expect from Caan, but he fits in perfectly as he expresses so much with his face and body language.  Ferrell and Caan produce comedy gold.

One cannot also overlook the great work of Zooey Deschanel.  Her character of Jovie is incredibly sweet, thoughtful and kind to Buddy.  She never judges or thinks less of him.  He also brings out the best in her.  They are perfect together on screen. The same can be said for Mary Steenburgen as she’s always so warm and inviting with all her film performances.  She sees the good in everyone.  There is also solid supporting work from Faizon Love, Peter Dinklage, Amy Sedaris, Andy Richter and Artie Lange. Director Jon Favreau even makes an appearance as a doctor.

That is another aspect which works just right: the direction of Jon Favreau.  The film is driven by interesting characters, and he finds just the right actors to portray them.  He also knows how to get the most out of David Berenbaum’s script.  He really lets it breathe, and there are so many great lines of dialogue which have stood the test of time and are still repeated to this day, nearly twenty years later. This is my wife’s favorite Christmas movie, and I think it might be mine as well as we watch it together every Christmas.  It’s funny, sweet, heartfelt, and it has a heart of gold.  It feels like an adult Christmas film that also knows how to appeal to kids as well, which is not an easy thing to accomplish. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “Elf” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It has a running time of 97 minutes and is rated PG for some mild rude humor and language. The film also comes with a digital copy.

4K Info:  This 4K release is absolutely stunning. It’s truly a visual feast for the eyes.  They have upgraded the film in a way as to where it truly feels like you are in New York around Christmas time.  It has great color tones that are enhanced to the max with HDR.  It really is a treat to watch as it looks so bright and colorful on this format.

Audio Info: The audio formats are DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, French, and Spanish. Subtitles are included in English, French, and Spanish. The sound is terrific.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with Jon Favreau and Will Ferrell

Tag Along with Will Ferrell

Film School for Kids

How They Made the North Pole

Lights, Camera, Puffin!

That’s a Wrap…

Kids on Christmas

Deck the Halls

Santa Mania

Christmas in Tinseltown

Fact Track

Focus Points

Elf Karaoke – We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Deck the Halls, Jingle Bells

Theatrical Trailer

Deleted/Alternate Scenes with optional commentary by Director Jon Favreau

Should You Buy It?

If you don’t want to be a cotton headed ninny muggings, you will go out and buy “Elf” on 4K and add it to your Christmas movie collection.  As with almost all of the older films which have been upgraded to 4K from Warner Brothers, they have transported the same special features from the Blu-ray.  However, this is one of the better looking 4K transfers I’ve seen of a film which is nearly twenty-years-old. There is a lot to like with both the audio and visual aspects of the film.  I was really impressed with the audio quality and crispiness of the picture quality.  That is the great thing about 4K—it really gives you a new appreciation for some of your favorite films.  This is a feel-good film, and we need more feel-good films these days, especially with Christmas around the corner.  I highly recommend you pick up the 4K of “Elf.”  You won’t be disappointed!

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

X-Men: Days of Future Past

X Men Days of Future Past poster

Okay, let me get it out of the way now; “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is not only the best “X-Men” movie since “X2,” but it is also the most entertaining and emotionally powerful film of the franchise to date. For a while, it seemed like the series peaked as the succeeding sequels and prequels were critically maligned to where you wondered if this particular superhero franchise had finally overstayed its welcome. But with Bryan Singer, having been led away by Superman and a giant slayer among others things, back behind the camera again, everything feels fresh and invigorating again, and it’s hard to think of another “X-Men” movie which can top this one.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” starts off in a very bleak future where sentient robots known as Sentinels have exterminated most of the mutants as well as those humans who have helped them. Not much is left which leads me to believe that in the process of protecting humanity, humans ended up destroying themselves by creating the Sentinels. Time is running out for the remaining X-Men which include Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto (Ian McKellen), Ororo Munroe / Storm (Halle Berry), Kitty Pryde / Shadowcat (Ellen Page), Bobby Drake / Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and of course Logan / Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), and they hide away in a Chinese monastery and prepare to use the only method they can to save all of humanity: time travel.

Charles explains to Logan of how they need to prevent the assassination of Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the military scientist who created the Sentinels, by Raven Darkhölme / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). While it is completely understandable for any mutant to hate Bolivar with a passion, his assassination ends up making him a martyr and Raven gets captured and experimented on to where the analysis of her mutant powers help to make the Sentinels all the more effective. So Logan, with the help of Shadowcat, ends up traveling back to the year 1973 to stop Raven from killing Bolivar as he is the only one of the group who can withstand the rigors of time travel. But just when you think this is going to turn into the usual time-travel flick, it becomes anything but.

What I love about the “X-Men” movies are how they focus on character as much as they do on visual effects. The mutants are treated as the outcasts of society, and we feel their pain at being excluded for who they are. Singer understands this pain, and it makes his return to the franchise all the more welcome. Also, there’s something bigger at stake than changing the course of events in time, and that’s preserving hope. While Morgan Freeman said in “The Shawshank Redemption” of how hope is a dangerous thing as it can drive a man insane, the mutants (the good ones anyway) thrive on it because they know no one can live any other way. Even in the darkest of times, they strive to make the world a better place for all of humanity. You feel the weight of the choices they are about to make, and it produced moments which truly left me on the edge of my seat.

After playing Wolverine for so many years, I figured Hugh Jackman would be sick of the character as he remained a moody son of a bitch in. But the great thing about Wolverine this time around is how he and Charles Xavier essentially trade places. In the previous films, Charles was always trying to get Wolverine to look past his anger and bitterness to embrace a better path in life, and now Wolverine has to do the same for Charles. When we catch up with the younger Professor X (this time played by James McAvoy) in 1973, he is a broken man who has regained the ability to walk (don’t worry, there is an explanation) and has become more comfortable being a functioning alcoholic instead of being a teacher. His school is now empty since the Vietnam War took away many of his students, and he spends his days hanging out with Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hout) who tends to his needs.

In some ways, Jackman looks really invigorated this time around as Wolverine proves to be the source of hope the other characters desperately need. He still remains the Wolverine we all know and love, and it’s a lot of fun watching him interact with the cast members of “X-Men: First Class.” Both McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, who plays the younger Magneto, once again make these iconic roles their own without the shadows of Stewart and McKellen hovering over them. It’s also great to see Hout and Jennifer Lawrence back as well as both actors make Beast and Mystique more than just a couple of mere supporting characters.

It’s also great to see a lot of veteran “X-Men” actors here as I was afraid we would never see them together again in the same movie. Stewart, McKellen, Berry, Page and Ashmore make their welcome returns count for every second of their screen time. And yes, Anna Paquin does make an appearance as Marie/Rogue. She’s only in the movie for a little bit, but at least she didn’t get cut out of it completely.

The screenwriter of “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is Simon Kinberg, and it is based on the famous comic book by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. For a time, I thought this was going to be your typical time travel movie where everything hinges on a pivotal moment in human history, but Kinberg has a few surprises in store for us as the story doesn’t stop at the moment we expect it to. The characters are acutely aware of the ripple effects they can cause in the history of things, and there’s no time wasted on showing how out of place they are in the 70’s as they always seem to be out of place in everyone’s eyes regardless of the decade.

There are also a bunch of new mutants joining the party this time around, and the one which stands out the most is Pietro Maximoff /Quicksilver who is played by Evan Peters. Peters is a gas to watch as his character moves at supersonic speeds around everyone, and he injects a good dose of humor into the proceedings. Singer also features Quicksilver in one of the movie’s most ingenious sequences which is scored to the most unlikely of songs. Seriously, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it has to be seen to be believed.

Another standout performance in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is Peter Dinklage’s as Bolivar Trask. Like any good actor, Dinklage keeps Bolivar from becoming another one-dimensional villain as he infuses the character with an arrogance and blind ambition which makes him all the more dangerous. Bolivar believes deeply in what he is doing as he feels it is right, and you come out of the movie pitying him. This is a character who has struggled all his life to get the respect he feels he deserves, and he never gives much thought to the consequences of his actions.

I also got to give kudos to Richard Camacho who plays President Richard Nixon. After watching Frank Langella portray this American President in “Frost/Nixon,” I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to see another actor play Nixon again as anyone else would have simply played him as a caricature. But I was surprised to see how good Camacho was because he didn’t give us the usual Nixon as this movie would have suffered as a result.

But in many ways, the biggest star of this “X-Men” movie is Singer himself. Regardless of his current legal predicament (I’m not even going into that here), he makes a comeback of sorts with this entry as his last few efforts have seen him lose his touch as a filmmaker. No, I haven’t seen “Jack the Giant Slayer,” but I have yet to hear my friends say anything good about it. But just as he did with the first “X-Men” movies, he does a terrific job of balancing out the visual effects with character development, and what results is the most emotionally satisfying comic book blockbuster I’ve ever seen. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which was really good, set the bar high, but Singer surpasses it by a wide margin with this installment.

After watching “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” you will agree that “X-Men: Apocalypse” can’t come soon enough. Seriously, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” only dreamed of being this good.

* * * * out of * * * *