Editor’s Notes: Kong: Skull Island, Free Fire, Tommy’s Honour, Buster’s Mal Heart, Resident Evil: Vendetta, With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story, & Behind the Mask - The Batman: Dead End Story are out on their respective home entertainment formats July 18th.
Kong: Skull Island
Kong: Skull Island (Warner Home Video), set during the Vietnam era, is about a group of secret government officials and U.S. troops who venture to an island in the South Pacific surrounded by a raging storm. On the island, the group comes in contact with prehistoric creatures and finds itself stranded as, one by one, their number is diminished as they battle assorted critters in search of a way to escape. Once title character Kong makes his entrance, the movie is all his, despite an unusually top-flight cast consisting of Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly.
This Kong is even larger than he was in the original 1933 movie, but is prone to the same temper tantrums and penchant for destruction. Computer-generated images make his movements smooth and very realistic looking. The sequences involving Kong’s rampages through the jungle are highlights.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts filmed in three continents in order to capture photogenic landscapes on Hawaii, on Australia’s Gold Coast, and in Vietnam. Many locations have never before been seen on film.
The 3D effects are very good, especially when Kong comes charging toward the camera or when one of the island’s other creatures makes an appearance. The sense of depth is especially effective with its picturesque locations serving as backdrop to the foreground action.
As an action-adventure flick, Kong: Skull Island delivers, but it is more about a rampaging monster and never creates the kind of empathy for the beast present in the original. Kong is at his best (cinematically) and worst (temper-wise) when he’s unleashed in an urban center. On his own island, he fails to muster the king of excitement caused by a gigantic ape running amok and smashing well-known landmarks in big cities. In fact, his purpose on Skull Island appears to be keeper and guardian of his turf, keeping the island’s dangerous creatures in check. This is an old-fashioned monster movie showcasing the wondrous possibilities of what a computer can do. It’s really a B-movie dressed up with A-movie special effects.
Bonus materials on the 2-disc Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray Combo Pack include director’s commentary, deleted scenes, and 6 behind-the-scenes featurettes. A digital HD copy is enclosed. The film is also available as a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack.
Free Fire (Lionsgate) is a crime thriller that takes place in 1970’s Boston.Justine (Brie Larson), a mysterious American businesswoman, and her associate, Ord (Armie Hammer), have arranged a black market weapons deal in a deserted warehouse between IRA arms buyer Chris (Cillian Murphy) and shifty South African gunrunner Vernon (Sharlto Copley). What begins as a courteous if uneasy exchange soon goes violent when tensions escalate and shots are fired, quickly leading to a full-on battle where it’s every man (and woman) for themselves.
Hollywood turns out lots of crime-related movies each year. They contain lots of action, which attracts audiences. However, most follow a formula and ultimately fail to engage viewers. Free Fire has an exceptionally strong cast and director/co-writer Ben Wheatley takes time providing characters with more than a cursory introduction. By the time the mayhem begins, we understand who these folks are, some of their backstory, and their motivations.
The theme of payback plays an important role, as various characters risk their lives and others’ in their determination to get revenge. The dialogue — generally not a primary concern of action flicks — is especially sharp and often quite witty. It’s tough to keep the hotheads down. Even when shot multiple times, they get up, crawl, and drag themselves back into the gunplay.
Special materials on the Blu-ray release include audio commentary with director Ben Wheatley, and a making-of featurette. A digital HD copy is enclosed.
Tommy’s Honour (Lionsgate) is about “Old” Tom (Peter Mullan) and “Young” Tommy Morris (Jack Lowden) who were founding fathers of the sport of modern golf. The time period is the 1860s, when golf moved from being a sport for the aristrocracy to a profession open to all classes. Old Tom is a caddy and greenskeeper who golfs but mainly serves his masters without comment. When Tommy begins to show promise as a golfer, the two begin to play together, and turn out to be a team that’s rarely beaten.
As their successes mount, Tommy becomes more and more impatient with his father’s acceptance of his role as servile. Tommy aggressively confronts arrogant Alexander Boothby (Sam Neill), the head of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, where Old Tom works. Eventually, Tommy is responsible for setting golf on the way to being the billion-dollar sport and industry of today.
This is a movie that golf aficionados will certainly enjoy, as it provides the historical background of the big shift from what the game was to what it would become. The Scottish landscapes, period production design and costumes, including golf attire of a bygone era, provide a visual portrait of a critical time in the development of golf.
Unfortunately, there is little tension in the scenes of golf matches. The personal story of father and son works to a point, but then fails to sustain our interest. Though there are numerous dramatic scenes, they are small and never lead to a major climactic moment. The drama should increase to a peak in order to keep the viewer involved. Regrettably, director Jason Connery (son of Sean) fails to do this.
The only bonus material on the DVD release is the featurette Far and Sure, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie, featuring Jordan Spieth, an American professional golfer on the PGA Tour and former world number one in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Buster’s Mal Heart
Buster’s Mal Heart (Well Go USA) is an independent film starring Rami Malek (TV’s “Mr. Robot”) as Buster, a troubled mountain man who rants about an upcoming apocalyptic “Inversion.” Once a dedicated family man and hotel concierge named Jonah, Buster conveys a disturbing restlessness.
We learn about both characters in contemporary scenes and a series of flashbacks. In the present day, Buster stays in empty vacation homes of the wealthy, haunted by visions of being stranded at sea. In the Jonah sequences, Malek is a clean-cut fellow dreaming of a better life for wife Marty (Kate Lyn Shiel) and their young daughter, though he’s drawn to a conspiracy theorist (DJ Qualls) who seems to corroborate his belief that his fate is predetermined.
Buster/Jonah is a complex character for a movie, and writer-director Adina Smith delves deeply into what makes this guy tick. Drawing on the Bible’s Book of Jonah, she uses the theme of prophecy as the catalyst that causes Buster to look into the future, though he’s resentful of what he sees. The film’s structure is non-linear, so we get information bit by bit, through flashbacks and flash forwards, which finally combine to provide an intriguing portrait.
Mr. Malek does an exceptional job showing both incarnations of one man and draws us in as we try to figure out whether Buster/Jonah is simply troubled by events over which he has no control or actually insane. He conveys the dark parts of Jonah’s personality, while also representing the almost ideal family guy, wanting only the best for his family. He even speaks both English and Spanish proficiently.
A daring thriller with dark humor and an interlocking mystery, Buster’s Mal Heart is initially confusing, but if you stay with it, you’ll be rewarded by a fine performance by Malek.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray release include deleted scenes and trailers. The film is also available on DVD.
Resident Evil: Vendetta
Resident Evil: Vendetta (Sony Home Entertainment) is a CG animated feature based on the best-selling video game. Unlike live action films in the franchise, this film more closely reflects the game experience with its wild action sequences, extreme camera angles, and rapid-fire editing. Though it may be a bit off-putting to watch these digitalized humans with their not-quite-flesh-and-blood look, the details of the animation are simply astonishing. You can see beard stubble on the men’s faces, strands of hair blowing gently in the breeze, an intricate lace pattern in a dress, and atmospheric effects with smoke, all of which suggest actual photography.
The plot reunites Chris with Leon Kennedy and Rebecca Chambers, two of the other heroes from the series. Chambers is now a brilliant scientist who has discovered a means of destroying the new virus strain. The team’s adversary is Glenn Arias, who’s created a deadlier and more intelligent strain of zombies. Arias is determined to exact vengeance against the good guys and in typical over-the-top mad villain mode, is obsessed with Rebecca, intent on making her his bride.
The script does its best to provide distinction to the computer-generated characters. Leon is the survivor of countless zombie attacks and appears resigned to his role. Chris is the square-jawed hero with more than adrenaline and testosterone driving him. Gamers will recognize situations in which they wish they can actually control the motions of Leon and Chris as they confront zombies. Like the video games, violence is everywhere, though the effect isn’t as dramatic as seeing real human actors with serious injuries. The graphic violence here is video game caliber, composed of splashy kills and exaggerated blood splatters.
Bonus materials on the 3-disc 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray release include a still gallery; the featurettes The Creature, Motion Capture Set Tour With Dante Carver, and CGI to Reality: Designing Vendetta; filmmaker audio commentary; and a bonus disc with 3 additional behind-the-scenes featurettes. The film is also available in a 2-disc Blu-ray edition and a single-disc DVD version.
With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story
With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story (Well Go USA) explores the life and career of the 94-year-old comic book legend who, in collaboration with several artists, including Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, created over 500 pop culture characters, including Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Thor, and The Hulk. Once executive vice president and publisher of Marvel Comics, he introduced a shared universe into superhero comic books. In addition, he challenged the comic industry’s censorship organization, the Comics Code Authority, indirectly leading to updated policies. Lee eventually led the expansion of Marvel Comics from a small division of a publishing house to a huge multimedia corporation.
The 80-minute documentary includes original footage, photographs, stories of Lee’s life from the Great Depression through his early years at Timely Comics, his service in World War II, the rise of the Marvel cast of characters, the comic book industry’s censorship battle of the 1950s, and the dawn of Lee’s legendary co-creations.
The best parts of the film are the interviews with Lee himself, who’s a captivating raconteur with an iron cast memory of details and events. He looks as if he’s having a blast recounting them for probably the millionth time. He’s quite a character and obviously enjoys his stature of Living Legend of Comic Book History.
Although there is a touching segment in which longtime wife Joan Lee speaks about her husband’s thoughtfulness and sentimentality, the film isn’t all love letter. The film briefly addresses the fact that Lee has been called a “credit hog” by artists who resent him not properly acknowledging their contribution to the creation and success of the Marvel superheroes. But, ultimately, the documentary is a fond, often gushing portrait of both the public and private Stan Lee.
Among the celebrities providing comments about Lee are Nicolas Cage, Kenneth Branagh, Sean Astin, Michael Chiklis, Thomas Haden Church, Roger Corman, Kirsten Dunst, Danny Elfman, Jon Favreau, James Franco, Samuel L. Jackson, Seth Rogen, Ralph Macchio, Tobey Maguire, and Gary Marshall. Unfortunately, these testimonials are repetitive and overly enthusiastic and, in many cases, look and sound scripted. The documentary is co-directed by Terry Douglas, Nikki Frakes and Will Hess.
Special materials on the DVD release include filmmaker commentary, extended interviews, gallery of over 500 characters co-created by Stan Lee, and over 90 minutes of featurettes.
Behind the Mask - The Batman: Dead End Story
Behind the Mask - The Batman: Dead End Story (Candy Factory Films) is a documentary about navigating the Hollywood system in an attempt to get a feature movie made. Sandy Collora is an artist who’s been creating controversy online for years because of amazing special effects and ongoing efforts to get a movie made. He also pioneered the fan film, which both entertained genre fans and attracted interest from Hollywood.
In 2003, Collora collaborated with his friends to make Batman: Dead End, a short film where Batman becomes involved in the war between the Aliens and Predators. Shot over the course of four days in North Hollywood, the film became an overnight online sensation, putting Collora in meetings with writers, managers, and agents, trying to get his first feature film off the ground. This new celebrity created a conflict within Collora, who wanted desperately to work in Hollywood but was unwilling to do it on their terms. He wouldn’t sacrifice his vision to accommodate what he referred to as “the machine” of Hollywood.
Director Eric S. Dow presents the saga of an artist with a dream — one who never quit. Collora explains first hand through interviews and archive footage what happened and what didn’t happen in the wake of his eight-minute short that caused a feeding frenzy among the powers-that-be who recognized his talent, were eager to work with him, but were ultimately pushed away by his polarizing personality. The film could have been subtitled “How to Sabotage Your Movie Deal.”
There are no bonus features on the unrated widescreen DVD release.