Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax DVD ONLY $4.75

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Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax DVD ONLY $4.75

An animated rendition of Dr. Seuss’s classic book about the threat of industrialization to nature, The Lorax opens in Thneedville–a town never depicted in the original book. Thneedville is an artificial place, made primarily from plastic. It sports inflatable trees, fast cars, and air quality so poor that the residents are forced to purchase bottled fresh air

Enjoy!

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Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

I liked it. ¬†I liked it a whole lot. ¬†I smiled as I walked out of the theater and passed by the next audience as they waited their turn, because I knew they were going to see something special. ¬†It wasn’t always that way. ¬†Though the movie begins with a very atmospheric tone and it is full of beauty and wonder, it takes a bit more time than I am used to for the story to arise. ¬†Because of that, my wife walked out early. ¬†I stayed, because– while it was slow to progress– I wasn’t in any kind of a rush and I still felt compelled to keep watching.

In no time my patience was rewarded, because once the plot is set into motion it is absolutely riveting cinema. ¬†I Loved Rise but Dawn has a very distinct Planet of the apes quality. ¬†We spend more time with the apes as they begin their civilization and are able to see crucial actions that seal the planet’s destiny (I was admonished by a reader a few years ago when I revealed that the planet was indeed Earth, so I won’t do that again. ¬†Oops.).

The film is rich in beauty and theatrics. ¬†It was like “Shakespeare in the Forest” ¬†I am impressed with how far the franchise, and indeed sci-fi films in general (if you look to the right examples) have come in terms of clear vision. ¬†Where fantasy once was vague, where panels and cels once had limited illustrations drawn to suggest, or imply a setting, we now have the ability to breath full life into a thing and experience it in a way that feels real and therefore makes more accessible it’s hidden truths.

I think the limitations in the past in adapting a work of science fiction have largely been due to lack of contextual information. ¬†I think we can see this in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. ¬†While Burton is next to none in the imagination department and his designs were wonderful, the film lacked the sense of relevance the most recent films have given. ¬†Could be that the element of mystery involved prior to Rise prohibited too much contextualizing, but the new story arc is all the better because of that shattered barrier.

With absolutely splendid photography and sets, digital effects and a haunting score by the prodigious Michael Giacchino we are given an all access pass to an intriguing and eerily familiar alternate reality and we get to bear witness to history in the making as Caesar and his kind face their greatest trial yet and the fate of the relationship between Man and Ape hangs in the balance.

I think it goes without saying at this point how Andy Serkis’ character work bonds so well to the mo-cap technology and the expressiveness of the apes is awe inspiring. ¬†What may yet go unspoken, or at least not praised highly enough is the performance of Toby Kebbell, a 32 year old actor I’ve never heard of before, but look forward to seeing again as Victor Von Doom in next year’s Fantastic Four. ¬†Toby steals the movie as Koba, a scarred and tortured ape saved by Caesar and ruled by an unforgiving malice toward humanity to the extend that his bond with Caesar is severely tested. ¬†If Sylvester Stallone makes an Expendables 4, it absolutely must include Koba. ¬†Make it happen, Hollywood.

 

Review: Muppets Most Wanted

poster muppets2The Muppets used to be kind of a niche thing. You’d love them or you’d hate them. Whether the movies succeeded, or failed you could rest assured that muppets will be muppets for better or worse. The characters are nothing less than iconic. The personalities of Miss Piggy, Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzie and the rest are so defined that any fan with enough multi-colored socks could put on a fairly convincing play. At the very least, there would be no confusing who was who. That’s why its so surprising that professional writers failed to tap into the natural reservoir of character traits and humor and instead tried to rewrite the Muppets’ DNA.

When Jason Segel took hold of the property for the 2011 film, he brought his fan sensibility with him and revitalized the franchise by taking it back to it’s roots, while simultaneously updating the humor for the current film going crowd. The Muppets were more themselves than they had been in decades, and they were still able to keep up in the post The Hangover comedy era. Nicholas Stoller, whose writing contributions include Fun With Dick and Jane and Yes Man cowrote the script and returned for the sequel without Segel’s much needed perspective. James Bobin, the inexperienced director with only some¬†episodes of¬†Da Ali G Show and Flight of the Concords on his writing resume, returned to helm the ill fated project and cowrite the script as well.

It was a mess!¬† First off, the opening number announces that they are making a sequel.¬† self referential humor can be very funny if you have the tact, but cynically singing that the sequel is “never quite as good” sets coordinates for an approach that is determined to rise above this accepted truth and truly entertain the way only Muppets do.¬† Sadly, it is a foreshadowing of the utter hopelessness of the film.¬† Instead of a straight forward¬†quest rife with gag opportunities and surprising celebrity cameos, The Muppets most Wanted is bogged down by¬†a part heist/ part jail break plot that ineffectively parodies the genres and fails to let the Muppets be Muppets.¬† The action scenes were ill conceived and the songs were just –BLAH!

There is no reason to see the film if you like the Muppets.¬† They are mere stuffing in a vehicle that only serves its three stars: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Ty Burrell.¬† Dominic Badguy (Gervais) is sidekick to an escapee from a Russian prison who uses his likeness to Kermit in order to infiltrate the group and lead them on a European tour that coincides with a series of planned robberies.¬† The bits between Burrell and Sam (an Interpol and CIA agent respectively)¬†were the closest to being sufficient, but sadly fell to the wayside.¬† Fey plays the warden of the prison where Kermit is held by mistake.¬† A bigger mistake is the assumed staying power of a gag that has tough inmates portrayed by the likes of¬†Ray Liotta and¬†Danny Trejo prancing around in song and dance numbers.¬† The lack of skill and sentiment caused the bulk of the film’s humor to be either misplaced or misused, if not both at the same time.¬† The through line of Kermit and Miss Piggy’s relationship was the only thing consistent with past Muppet ventures, the others are neglected and used only to further the ill conceived plot regardless of (or even in opposition to) their own inherent strengths.¬† The cameos, a muppet staple, amounted to such and such star appearing on screen for a couple of seconds.¬† The only real exceptions being, Usher playing an usher, and my favorite, Salma Hayek appearing as a guest on the show where none of the characters can be understood.

By the end of it I felt like the show not only lacked heart, it lacked genuine affection for the material and respect for the Muppet audience.  The sense of humor of the film seems to come at the expense of those who hoped to see a familiar style of comedy with some fresh surprises.  Their arrogance and laziness are at once incompatible and unexplainable.  There are some good laughs to be had here and there, but not enough to make this overwhelming disappointment worth the time.

Review: The Wolverine

This isn’t a review of the Blu-ray as I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet, but it’s recent release reminded me that I never reviewed the film, I really wanted to praise the film, but I had some minor issues with it that would seemingly negate my overall satisfaction, so at the time, I left it alone.¬† Here are my lasting impressions:

The Wolverine is the best Wolverine film so far. While that doesn’t say a whole lot, I think this time around actually delivers the best Wolverine centered film the proprietors of the X Men franchise are capable of offering. I would even call it their best X Men effort of all. James Mangold, director of Knight and Day, leads the action terrifically, almost¬†from start to finish and Mark Bomback and cowriter Scott Frank’s (Minority Report) screenplay based on the 1982 Chris Claremont/Frank Miller series is very strong.

Beginning during US atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki, Logan saves a man’s life and many years later is summoned¬†back to Japan to meet the old man before he dies.¬† He is offered a chance to become mortal, but sinister schemes are at work, putting the weakened Wolverine to the test as he protects a young woman from a deadly band of Ninjas lead by the Silver Samurai.

Like the first Wolverine film, we get to see a lot of cool things, but the dexterity with which this installment is handled is enviable.¬† It’s far from the perfect thrills of the very best Marvel films to date, but it is highly enjoyable and basically a really good movie.¬† Hugh Jackman continues to be the ultimate portrayal of Logan and gives considerable range to the character.¬† The very comics like appearance of Viper was a deviation from the look and feel of other¬†movies which take steps toward a more believable film world, and ultimately that sense of being true to the source material is both The Wolverine’s greatest attribute and it’s greatest failure.

As the film progresses, it feels a little bit like a series divided between battles, which I thought was kind of a¬†cool touch.¬† The story had me engaged all the way until the final act, which was the least climactic of all of the action sequences despite the high stakes, because you already expect Wolverine to win and it wasn’t staged particularly well.¬† I enjoyed the Avengers like tie in at the end that teases X Men: Days of Future Past.¬† I have a love/hate relationship with this franchise, but The Wolverine is a solid “like.”

Review: Last Vegas

poster last vegasAbout half way through the movie I leaned over to my wife and whispered, “This is so good.”¬† It’s not unconventional, or provocative, per se.¬† it is predictable, but only because it’s perfect.¬† Last Vegas has tons of diverse talent that syncs up instantly for a symphony of comic wit and sincerity that is thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end.¬† While I say it is predictable, that is only because it turns the only way I think it can be truly satisfying.¬† That is not to say that the movie is not full of fun surprises and misdirection that truly pays off.¬† I can only describe the experience as gleeful.

The story is of four old friends– plaid by actors in roles designed to accentuate what makes them great: Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas, and Robert DeNiro– who grow apart and get the gang back together 58 years after its inauguration for an unlikely bachelor party in Las Vegas.¬† Imagine a classy, soulful, sharply comedic, heartfelt spin on the Wolf Pack that may well be superior to even the fist Hangover film.¬† The roster for the crazy Vegas weekend includes a Florida retiree who isn’t ready to be a Florida retiree, a grandfather who’s family fusses endlessly about his health, a successful businessman in Malibu eulogizing his mentor, and his old best friend, a widower and recluse who no longer speaks to him.

The movie is about all kinds of relationships, but it’s just fun to see the guys cut loose, judge a bikini contest, go clubbing, meet celebrity look-a-likes in drag, rediscover what they mean to each other and what they appreciate about their lives.¬† I really think this film is a home run.¬† It seems effortless the way the highs and lows come together to make a fully developed and satisfying movie experience that can be repeated.¬† The performances are all fantastic, including Mary Steenburgen, who plays a Las Vegas lounge singer the boys become smitten with.

It¬†hits all of the tones that it should.¬† It’s a Bachelor Party movie and what’s more, it’s set in Vegas and the scene is captured really well and the cast deftly maneuvers it with style, cunning and hilarity.¬† I also like that much of it feature The Aria, vs. Caesar’s Palace, which is the usual.¬†¬† Much of the comedy of the film comes from the fantastic direction of Jon Turteltaub, who I’m sure not only informed the actors, but got some of his own jokes in from his perspective as a storyteller.¬† I recently saw another Turteltaub film, The Kid, which stars Bruce Willis.¬† It was a lot of fun too and Jon really knows how to direct.¬† Writer Dan Fogelman (The Guilt Trip) is no slouch himself and these guys are in top form and collaborating with the cr√®me de la cr√®me of acting.

The bottom line is, Last Vegas is a well paced, disarming comedy that is deceptively heartfelt and delivers in all genres it touches on with lightning fast speed and dexterity.

Review: Mickey’s Christmas Carol (Blu-ray)

Mickey’s Christmas Carol¬†is soon to be available¬†as a 30th anniversary¬†Disney Blu_ray and it is so much fun.¬† I adore the song that plays during the credits.¬† To me, it is a perfect representation of Christmas that takes me back to my childhood, when I watched this beloved adaptation of Dickens’ classic.¬† It is short, and therefore lacks the depth of the original story that is more adequately explored in other great versions, but it cuts to the heart of it in a way that is light entertainment fun for kids and just scary enough to be exciting, without any real danger of true fright.¬† I really enjoy the repurposing of classic characters, casting Jiminy as the ghost of Christmas Present, Mr. Toad as Fezziwig and so on.¬† That treatment of Disney’s repertoire of characters is what intrigued me most about Tale Spin, a Disney Afternoon series that breathed new life into the cast of A Jungle Book.¬† It gives Mickey’s¬†Christmas Carol a familial glow that is sweet and funny and bound to be an instant tradition for the family.

The quick boil down of the well known story is the cheap, miserly Mr. Scrooge– mean, but not without humor– reluctantly grants Bob Cratchit (Mickey Mouse) half a day off for Christmas.¬† That Night, he is spooked by the ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley (Goofy) who warns him that three spirits will visit him before morning.¬† Scrooge is woken up by Jiminy Cricket who takes him to witness a Christmas party from his past, and the day he turned his back on love for his own greed.¬† He is next woken up by the Giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk who shows him Bob Cratchit’s family and suggests that the sickly child Tiny Tim will soon be gone.¬† Scrooge is hardly able to grasp the weight of this when he sees the weasels from The Wind and the Willows digging a grave that the Ghost of Christmas Future (Pete) reveals is his, before pushing him down screaming into a flaming pit.¬† Scrooge wakes up with a change of heart and makes Bob his partner.

It’s a brief, but fun romp with a bonus features line up of classic cartoons starring Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale, plus, a new Mickey cartoon starring Harold, the abominable snowman, that is in some inexplicable way reminiscent of a Phineas and Ferb type show.¬† The whole thing is great fun that runs just under an hour.¬† you can pre-order here for the holidays.

Review: The Internship

dvd the internshipThe Internship¬†is a smart collaboration between Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps and Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Productions.¬† It’s intelligently crafted, to the minutest detail, making it yet another pleasurable viewing experience from the director of Date Night and Real Steel.¬† Worthy of ownership, it¬†was perhaps an easily overlooked movie¬†that might be disregarded as more of the same in a sea of mundane comedies.¬† With the familiar faces of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn headlining the film you may feel as though you’d seen it before and at the very least, the word fresh is not one that would creep into your preconceptions.

But Levy does with the natural talents of Wilson and Vaughn, what he did for Tina Fey and Steve Carell, and the collaboration turns out wonderfully shaped performances.¬† The finished product is a perfectly paced, lean comedy that takes advantage of each moment to generate and reinforce positive interest in the story.¬† The result for the viewer is an engaging experience with plenty of laughs and quotable dialogue that is very re-watchable.¬† The strength of the story is almost like that of a Pixar movie.¬† It’s not likely to bring a tear to anyone’s eye by any stretch of the imagination, but it is carefully plotted and the comedy is driven just as much by the ensemble of lovable¬†misfits as it is by the circumstances.

We open up with Billy and Nick,¬†a couple of great salesman getting psyched on the way to a crucial meeting with a client.¬† They are a confident team who know what they are doing, but the company is in trouble, so the pressure is on.¬† No time is wasted introducing these guys and getting the audience to empathize,¬† Within minutes they learn that the company is over and that they are out of jobs.¬† Rather than take another sales job that will allow them to continue to scrape by, the two decide to jump headlong into a new field created by the technology that rendered their skills obsolete.¬† They take an internship at Google, where a series of challenges are laid before a variety of teams in a winner takes all race for employment.¬† Since everyone is much younger and more educated, they avoid Billy and Nick like the plague leaving them to be scooped up with the rest of the losers after all the teams are chosen.¬† The hostile group of hopeless loners must act like a team in order to survive and find friendship along the way.¬† It’s not original.¬† It sounds a lot like Dodgeball if you think about it– or the more recent Monsters University–¬† But the genius of it is not in the originality of the plot.¬† All throughout it¬†are elements of many classic comedies, and yet it stands alone as unique, because of what transpires between the bullet points.¬† It’s funny, it’s familiar, but it’s also new and has a strong identity of its own.¬†¬†A couple¬†of the best examples is the two or three key stages in the middle act that reveal a lot about the characters and energize the plot;¬†and the sweet, underplayed subplots for Nick and Billy.

I think, what makes the movie work most is that it has heart under the surface, but the focus is always comedy.¬† There is a kind of slight of hand at play, that I think is mostly due to Levy’s role as director, but also the¬†finely honed sense of comedy Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have¬†their own¬†reputations for.¬† It goes beyond the clash between cynicism and idealism in the fight for the American dream.¬†¬†The Internship¬†is sharply focused and deeply felt so that the plot becomes an exercise in fun and frivolity, with a firm spine to carry it through.