Cinemas & Home Entertainment This Week…
GRIM PICKINGS this week includes key dates to dismember with the year’s worst actioner opening on the big screen while the year’s best actioner hits home entertainment!
Filmmaker James Gray (THE LOST CITY OF Z) helms what is quite possibly the greatest work of science fiction cinema in many years, if not the decade, concerning itself with the greater unknown of ourselves than the final frontier as such. Similar to Denis Villeneuve’s ARRIVAL, Gray’s AD ASTRA is deep-rooted in human drama and relationships encased in a wondrous and visionary portrayal of the not distant future where space exploration has to a degree been commercialised. Brad Pitt (ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD) delivers a career best as Roy McBride, an astronaut and son of the revered and long-missing astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who is sent on a mission to Neptune in attempt to stop a series of power surges that threaten the continued existence of mankind. AD ASTRA is thoroughly mesmerising throughout its two hour runtime, at times suspenseful, beautiful and poetic, its a true cinematic masterwork of wonderment, style and heart…hands down one of the finest films of 2019.
RAMBO: LAST BLOOD
Sylvester Stallone returns one last time to reprise the role of John Rambo, the character that gave rise to him as a cinematic action icon, under the direction of GET THE GRINGO’s Adrian Grunberg. Growing up as kid of the eighties, it was often rare for a film to live up to the promise of the key art on the VHS, the greater the scale of action on the slick the lower the budget of the film itself, however it was the sizzle that made the sale, not necessarily the steak itself. That said the bigger the budget and often better the film, the less inspiring the artwork, as there was less of a story needing to be sold, it was the star power of Stallone and Schwarzenegger with a typically huge gun that sealed the deal, case in point RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II or PREDATOR. However those days have long past and Stallone is arguably no longer a contemporary action hero, instead relegated to DTV (see ESCAPE PLAN 2: HADES, BACKTRACE etc) and the occasional nostalgia-driven cash-grab (like this one) so his image solely strewn across a bland story-less greyscale poster holding assorted weaponry does little to inspire the imagination. That said the marketing genius behind the poster for RAMBO: LAST BLOOD have in fact captured the tone, tension, drama and action of the film successfully as this is film is one of the most insipid studio action films in some time and a squalid shit-stain on the entire RAMBO franchise. Immediately from its opening five minutes, where Rambo attempts to save some hikers from a freak storm come flash flood, its established we’re going to watch a water-downed, under-budgeted and completely unnecessary cash-in on a beloved franchise. In the weakest of premises, Rambo’s niece rushes off to Mexico to confront her father as to why he abandoned her as a child, which leads Rambo to follow with an ill-prepared rescue mission that results in him being beaten to pulp and the girl dying, all at the hands of a human trafficking ring. However after a speedy recovery, our crafty veteran rigs up his farm ‘Kevin McCallister style’ and lures the group back to take them down one-by-one in possibly the fastest and bloodiest finale action cinema has ever seen. Outside of establishing that Rambo’s niece, Gabrielle ( Yvette Monreal), is a good student, with an arsehole boyfriend and a strong desire to speak with her father, her character is void of any genuine substance, she is merely a simple plot device. As a lamb to the slaughter, more time is spent inflicting unspeakable horror upon Gabrielle than ever developing her character so while its easy to empathise with her suffering, its hard to make any emotional connection which in turn makes the revenge aspect of the film far less satisfying. With what RAMBO: LAST BLOOD lacks in character development, it makes up for with an unnecessary amount of characters who did little more than slow the momentum and divert the plot, which would be forgivable had the film not run at under ninety minutes and had such a swift unrewarding climax. If facial trauma, severed limbs and human supernovas are your thing, you’ll be served in spades as while RAMBO: LAST BLOOD doesn’t quite equal the body count of its predecessor RAMBO (2008), it unequivocally is the goriest instalment of the series yet. Sadly the onscreen brutality of the film is delivered far too fast, frequently and without any sense of build that you’ll be left feeling more exhausted than morbidly elated by its abundance of grizzly carnage. RAMBO: LAST BLOOD is a fail from a script level to screen but if you are going to catch the film during its theatrical run, be sure to stick around for the closing credits which are undoubtably the best thing about the entire film!
Writer Gene Stupnitsky (BAD TEACHER) makes his feature directorial debut with this vulgar, hilarious and absolutely adorable coming-of-age comedy. Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon) are three 12-year-olds who in order to make it to their first kissing party must skip school, fence stolen goods, deal drugs, avoid the law, fight frat boys and elude two teenage girls in hot pursuit at all costs. Stupnitsky’s GOOD BOYS is escalation comedy at its finest, as frantic as it is funny and never resorts to sappiness to hit an emotional chord yet delivers genuine heart.
JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM
It’s been five years since JOHN WICK first graced cinema screens and who would have thought that a simple revenge actioner would evolve into incredible and surprisingly detail-rich franchise. Picking right up from where JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 concluded, this latest instalment sees the titular character go head-to-head with not only the New York underworld but that of an international destination also and the phrase ‘always outnumbered, never outgunned’ has never been truer. Kinetic in its action and poetic in its violence, JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM holds nothing back with some of the greatest set pieces ever committed to celluloid i.e. Keanu Reeves riding horseback down a busy New York street taking down armed assailants on motorbikes. Mark our words, if you love action films…this is a film YOU NEED OWN! Kudos to the animal actors in the film too, from the aforementioned steed to a pair of attack dogs, this film really has it all! StudioCanal’s 4K Ultra-HD/Blu-ray and Blu-ray releases contain no less than 10x Featurettes covering everything from animal stunts to post-production in the editing suite, there’s also 3x Trailers (of which which is for the JOHN WICK HEX video game) and 4K enthusiasts will be pleased to hear that it carries both Dolby Vision and Atmos along with the slightly extended <R>18+ cut with some severe eye trauma!
Taking a timeless and beloved animated feature to the live action realm is no mean feat as the past has proven with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and more recently DUMBO however ALADDIN is a genuine exception. Filmmaker Guy Ritchie’s (SNATCH) adaptation is one of true wonderment, filled with lavish production design, spectacular set pieces and not only apt casting but enchanting performances. Similar to David Lowery’s PETE’S DRAGON from 2016, this is a welcome addition to Disney’s live action catalogue, one that successfully transcends mere nostalgia to become a throughly enjoyable and memorable film. Disney’s 4K Ultra-HD/Blu-ray and Blu-ray releases contain 3x Featurettes, 6x Deleted Scenes, a Deleted Song, Music Videos and Blooper Reel.
GODZILLA II: KING OF MONSTERS
Genre filmmaker Michael Dougherty (KRAMPUS, TRICK ‘R’ TREAT) directs this latest cinematic outing of everyone’s favourite prehistoric sea monster come pop-cultural icon, GODZILLA. While this instalment is the second GODZILLA film to come out of Hollywood in recent years, it is in fact the third entry in Legendary Pictures’s ‘MonsterVerse’, following KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) and GODZILLA (2014), with GODZILLA VS KONG to come next year, from a script by Dougherty and directed by fellow genre stalwart Adam Wingard (THE GUEST, YOU’RE NEXT). Thankfully GODZILLA II: KING OF THE MONSTERS delivers on its promise of monsters, in fact three new kaiju (Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah) are ushered into the universe and the sheer spectacle of their city-scaled squabbles is truly awe-inspiring, from the richly detailed texture of the creature design to the prizefight choreography of their showdowns. Unfortunately with all that awesome comes clown car full of characters who do little more than provide excessive exposition, create unnecessary human drama and ultimately slow the pace. Memo to Hollywood: We came to the see the monsters, not Coach Taylor, Lorraine Warren & Eleven in HOME ALONE 6: LOST IN BOSTON. While GODZILLA II is far from perfect, its a step in the right direction and we can only hope that old mate’s next bout on the big screen will bring with it more fight and less drama. Roadshow’s 4k Ultra-HD/Blu-ray and Blu-ray releases contain an Audio Commentary, 7x Featurettes covering everything from actress Millie Brown to the military grade weaponry used in the film, 2x Deleted Scenes, 1x Extended Scene and Theatrical Trailers.
ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES – ULTIMATE EDITION (Blu-ray)
Praise be Via Vision Entertainment for being the first-in-the-world to release the far superior theatrical cut of ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES to Blu-ray in their Ultimate Edition. Comprising of both theatrical and extended cuts of the film, this release also boasts 2x Audio Commentary tracks (the first with director Kevin Reynolds and actor Kevin Costner while the second is with actors Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, writer/producer Pen Densham and co-writer/producer John Watson), an archival half hour EPK ‘Robin Hood: The Man, The Myth, The Legend‘ Featurette hosted by Pierce Brosnan, interviews with Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, & Alan Rickman, the ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You‘ live performance by Bryan Adams, Photo Gallery and Theatrical Trailer. While the transfer on the theatrical cut is from a dated master and shows some compression issues which may be inherent in the source rather than the encode, its still fantastic to finally have it in high-definition at the very least while the extended edition’s transfer is a direct port of the previously released Warner/Roadshow Blu-ray.
Grim Pickings is written weekly by Jarret Gahan.