Renfield

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 6/6/23;
Universal;
Horror Comedy;
Box Office $17.15 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for bloody violence, some gore, language throughout and some drug use.
Stars Nicholas Hoult, Awkwafina, Ben Schwartz, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Adrien Martinez, Nicolas Cage.

As if tales of immortality in exchange for a nibbling of the neck weren’t parodic enough, vampire spoofs by their very nature tend to suck. (Forgive me.) If Mel Brooks (Dracula: Dead and Loving It) or Roman Polanski (The Fearless Vampire Killers) can’t make a go of it, what chances did Old Dracula, Vampire in Brooklyn, Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula, etc. stand of breaking the mold? Stephanie Rothman’s tale of bisexual bloodsuckers, The Velvet Vampire is not without its charms, but when it comes to vampire comedies, Nicolas Cage is two for two. Remember Vampire’s Kiss, where Cage famously ate a cockroach? In Renfield, Cage’s Dracula leaves the creepy-crawly consumption to his title sidekick.

The premise is a springboard to delight: Dracula’s “familiar,” a servant, as a chyron informs us, “gifted with a tiny portion of (his) power,” attends a meeting of DRAAG (Dependent Relationship Anonymous Addiction Group), a 12-step self-help group aimed at eliminating feelings of enslavement brought on by a spouse, boss, or spending an eternity doing the satanic bidding of the Prince of Darkness. All of the group’s abusive relationships combined can’t compete with the decades of humiliating servitude Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) was forced to chalk up to the Count’s abusively erratic mood swings as well as catching and preparing his nightly repast. Rather than shopping for victims one by one, why not dine ala group therapy? The question of why a person possessed of Renfield’s powers needs chloroform to overcome his victims is a head-scratcher.

Director Chris McKay (The Batman Lego Movie, The Tomorrow War) envisions a sequel. When Renfield’s narration suggests starting at the beginning, he didn’t mean the Bram Stoker novel, but Tod Browning’s 1931 movie adaptation that became one of the cornerstones of the Universal Horror franchise. When the two first meet in flashback, rather than a green screen restaging of the original, the filmmaker has digitally inserted the faces of our two leads over those of Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye. With the exception of Cage’s teeth — he and Finding Nemo’s Bruce appear to share the same dentist — the effect is staggeringly convincing.

The understanding relationship between Master and somnambulic servant at times borders on touching. Renfield knows how to play up to Dracula’s narcissistic side. He warns if Dracula dies, Renfield is next, not so much for any of the heinous acts he’s committed against humanity, but because he is the only one who truly cares for the troubled Nosferatu. We want so much to believe Cage’s Dracula when he alleges a vampire’s ability to live in eternal life does not make him a monster. Choosing to join VA (Vampires Anonymous), Renfield betrays Dracula by becoming a member of the human race as opposed to the walking dead.

A subplot involving a family of mobsters gunning for vampires is a welcome addition, as is Awkwafina as a second-generation police officer looking to avenge her father’s death. The dialogue is at times excruciatingly witty and laugh-out-loud hilarious, but damn if the filmmakers refuse to play by the simplest of rules. It’s bad enough to camp things up or overstate violence looking to appeal to the Comic-Con set, but this group goes so far as breaking tradition by adding a new power. If Dracula feeds off human lives, in accordance with the original legend, Renfield devours bugs the way Popeye downs spinach for strength. As sure as the bloodsuckers in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark are inexplicably free to move about the countryside in broad daylight, a drizzle of this Drac’s blood now has the power to raise the dead. Vampirism as we know it has been around since the early 18th-century. In choosing to color outside the lines, McKay and screenwriter Ryan Ridley do the film a giant disservice. The same goes for the ersatz CGI effects borrowed from The Matrix. That said, I’ll watch anything with Cage in it, even The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Make that especially The Sorcerer’s Apprentice!

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Bonus features include a commentary with Producer Samantha Nisenboim, screenwriter Ryan Ridley and others; several deleted and extended scenes, and alternate takes; the making of the “Renfield’s Dance” scene; and five behind-the-scenes featurettes.

 

DC League of Super-Pets

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Warner;
Animated;
Box Office $93.6 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for action, mile violence, language and rude humor.
Voices of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna, Marc Maron, Keanu Reeves, Thomas Middleditch, Ben Schwartz, Olivia Wilde, Jameela Jamil, Jemaine Clement, John Early, Daveed Diggs, Dascha Polanco, Yvette Nicole Brown, Dan Fogler, Busy Philipps, Keith David, Alfred Molina, Lena Headey.

In the annals of cinema history, DC League of Super-Pets might be the first superhero movie in which the day is saved by the main character’s bowel movement.

The animated movie follows the adventures of Krypto, Superman’s pet dog who traveled with young Kal-El to Earth when both were babies (which would make Krypto really old for a dog, but since he’s an alien dog with superpowers we don’t have to worry about that part). Voiced by Dwayne Johnson, Krypto now helps adult Superman fight crime in Metropolis, but starts to feel left out of Superman’s life due to his relationship with Lois Lane.

Superman (John Krasinski), Krypto and the rest of the Justice League stop Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) from obtaining some orange kryptonite (just go to Wikipedia to look up the history of the colored kryptonites, it’s a whole thing) that would give mortal earthlings superpowers. Unbeknownst to them, the magic rock is instead hauled in by Lulu (Kate McKinnon), an evil guinea pig from Luthor’s lab now living in an animal shelter. While she gains superpowers to aid in her plot for world domination, bringing the kryptonite into the shelter also inadvertently gives the other animals weird powers as well.

Meanwhile, Krypto ends up losing his powers due to eating a piece of cheese containing a piece of green kryptonite (the traditional kind). When Lulu captures Superman and the other members of the Justice League, Krypto is unable to rescue them, so he recruits the superpowered animals from the shelter.

Among them is Ace, a tough dog voiced by Kevin Hart, making this yet another Johnson/Hart collaboration. Since Ace in the comics is traditionally the name of Batman’s dog, it’s not hard to figure out how the plot is going to play out. It all turns, of course, on when Krypto can pass the kryptonite from his system and regain his powers to join the fight.

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DC League of Super-Pets is a vibrant animated adventure that continues Warner’s attempts to branch out its DC Comics characters into other media as it fumbles around with the creative direction of the DC live-action movie franchise (which should get a boost from the elevation of James Gunn and Peter Safran to lead that department). Focusing on the Justice League pets is certainly a novel approach to present the DC world from a different perspective and target the younger demographic, even if it at times seems like a superpowered version of The Secret Life of Pets (also featuring Hart).

Of course, echoing popular trends from similar genres is nothing new, and DC League of Super-Pets is certainly not the most bizarre example of it as far as recent DC adaptations go. That title would have to go to HBO Max’s “Batwheels,” an animated series that brings Batman’s vehicles to life as if they drove in from Disney’s “Cars” movies.

Krypto the Superdog, at the very least, is not a new concept in DC land, having been barking around comics since 1955. His name obviously derives from Superman’s home planet of Krypton, but recent events might conjure up different connotations for it (“Smallville” sidestepped the silliness of It by simply naming the character Shelby instead).

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DC League of Super-Pets comes with extras on Blu-ray and the retail digital version (in the 4K combo pack they are on the regular Blu-ray only).

There are roughly 20 minutes of deleted sequences, presented as storyboards with the original audio temps.

The making of the film is told several short featurettes. The 15-minute “Behind the Super Voices” gives the cast a chance to discuss the film, while the eight-minute “Super-Pets Animation 101” features a discussion from the filmmakers on how they developed the movie, and the seven-and-a-half-minute “The World of Super-Pets” delves into how the film taps in DC Comics history.

Along those lines, the four-minute “Find the Easter Eggs” shows off some of the background references to DC Comics lore.

Rounding out the fun is a seven-minute “How to Draw Krypto” tutorial with animation supervisor Dave Burgess.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Family;
Box Office $190.87 million;
$25.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray, $35.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for action, some violence, rude humor, and mild language.
Stars Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, Natasha Rothwell, Adam Pally, Shemar Moore, Lee Majdoub, Tom Butler, Melody Nosipho Niemann. Voices of Ben Schwartz, Idris Elba, Colleen O’Shaughnessey.

The first Sonic the Hedgehog movie in 2020 was a relatively low-key affair in terms of adapting the Sega video game. Elements from the games were kept to a minimum, as the film focused mainly on establishing the speedy Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) on Earth by pairing him with a sheriff named Tom (James Marsden), who helped Sonic evade Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey).

After the success of that first film, for the sequel the filmmakers have opened up the world a bit, introducing more elements from the game, new characters and a lot of high-speed action. It’s a fun ride, especially for fans of the games and the first film, but it runs a bit long as the filmmakers can’t help but indulge in bringing their favorite moments from the game to life.

Robotnik, last seen at the end of the first film trapped on a mushroom planet, is found by the echidna warrior Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba), who brings him back to Earth in order to track down Sonic. Knuckles believes Sonic is the key to locating a powerful artifact called the Master Emerald, while Robitnik just wants revenge, so they form an alliance. Meanwhile, Tails the flying fox arrives on Earth hoping to help Sonic against Knuckles.

Now that the big three characters from the game are in play, plus Robotnik sporting a look closer to his game appearance with a crazy moustache, the plot doesn’t need to rely on the human side characters as much, and finds an excuse to keep Sonic separated from Tom for most of the movie.

Sonic discovers the map given to him in the first film when he was sent to Earth contains clues to the location of the Master Emerald, setting off an Indiana Jones-type adventure quest as Sonic and Tails hope to find the jewel before Knuckles and Robotnik.

Tom, meanwhile, ventures to Hawaii for his sister-in-law’s wedding, in a storyline that eventually comes back around to tie into the main plot for a spectacular final boss level battle, but it’s a bit of a chore to get through as it feels like a conventional slapstick comedy tacked onto a video game fantasy movie.

Topping things off are some nice messages about teamwork and family.

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The film looks great in 4K and the game characters are rendered well, even if they look like cartoon characters dropped into a live-action world. Carrey’s over-the-top performance is probably the key to tying it all together as he’s basically a living cartoon character anyway.

Knuckles will likely be seen as the breakthrough character here, as Elba does some terrific voice work, and Paramount+ is developing a miniseries about the character for release in 2023. The film also lays some groundwork for a third film, which has been announced for 2024 since the second film did better than the first one at the box office.

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The Blu-ray includes a five-minute short film called “Sonic Drone Home” that is something of a follow-up to the movie, but is fully CG-animated.

Another highlight is the commentary from Schwartz and director Jeff Fowler, which continues the fun conversation the pair were having in the commentary from the first movie, as they discuss how the movie was made and point out more references to the games.

More behind-the-scenes details are revealed in five featurettes that run a total of about 20 minutes.

Also included are 17 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, three minutes of bloopers, a humorous Q&A with Schwartz, and a Kid Cudi music video for the song “Stars in the Sky.”

The Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Blu-rays are not offered as combo packs, and are configured as either a standalone 4K disc or a standalone regular Blu-ray. Each has all the bonus material plus a code for a digital copy.

‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ Limited Edition Blu-ray Due Nov. 24 From Paramount

Sonic the Hedgehog is being re-released as a limited-edition Blu-ray combo pack (with digital and DVD) Nov. 24 from Paramount Home Entertainment.

The family film based on the video game character follows the incredibly speedy Sonic the Hedgehog (voiced by Ben Schwartz), aka The Blue Blur, who embraces his new home on Earth. That is, until he accidentally knocks out the power grid and sparks the attention of evil genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). It’s super-villain vs. super-sonic in an all-out race across the globe to stop Robotnik from using his unique power for world domination. Sonic teams up with The Donut Lord, aka Sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), to save the day.

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Bonus features include four mini-posters; commentary by director Jeff Fowler and Schwartz; “Around the World in 80 Seconds,” Sonic’s next adventure; deleted scenes; bloopers; the “Speed Me Up” music video; “For the Love of Sonic,” in which Carrey and the cast discuss what Sonic the Hedgehog means to them; “Building Robotnik with Jim Carrey”; “The Blue Blur: Origins of Sonic”; and “Sonic On Set,” a set visit with Schwartz.

Sonic the Hedgehog

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Family;
Box Office $146.01 million;
$28.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for action, some violence, rude humor and brief mild language.
Stars James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Tika Sumpter, Jim Carrey.

The long-awaited movie version of the famed Sonic the Hedgehog SEGA video game offers a charming if formulaic adventure for everyone’s favorite furry blue speedster.

Ben Schwartz voices Sonic, who is essentially a cartoon character planted in the real world. When Sonic’s native dimension, which looks more like the fantasy worlds of loops and jumps from the video game, is overrun by bad guys looking to steal his power, Sonic is sent to hide on Earth, left with only a bag of magical rings that can be used to open gateways to other worlds.

Settling into a lair in the forests of Montana, Sonic spends his days reading comic books and spying on the local town to get a sense of the life he has to avoid by not making his existence known to humanity. A mishap at a baseball field, in which Sonic decides to use his speed to play all the positions at the same time, causes a massive electrical surge that draws the attention of the U.S. government. They send in Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate.

As Sonic prepares to leave Earth by conjuring a portal to a another dimension, he inadvertently attracts the attention of the local sheriff, Tom (James Marsden), causing his bag of rings to get lost in San Francisco. So Sonic and Tom set off on a road trip to retrieve them, pursued by the technological minions of Robotnik, who seeks the secrets to Sonic’s speed powers for himself.

While the film transplants Sonic’s story to Earth, it peppers the screen with plenty of references to the game, from the names of locations to the use of Sonic’s theme in the musical score.

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Schwartz turns in a delightful vocal performance as the wisecracking hedgehog, while Carrey returns to his zany form as the over-the-top villain. The screen pops with colors and visual delights, paying off the studio’s decision to redesign Sonic into a more cutesy cartoon creature rather than the more photorealistic attempt that freaked out audiences in the original trailer.

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The Blu-ray includes a nice commentary track from Schwartz and director Jeff Fowler as they discuss the fun they had making the film while pointing out some of the references to the game. The disc also includes three behind-the-scenes featurettes that run about 12 minutes, plus a neat six-minute video about the history of Sonic from his video game origins.

Fans looking for more Sonic will find him in a two-minute “Around the World in 80 Seconds” short in which Sonic describes visiting different places to his journal. There are also five decent deleted sequences, running about 14 minutes and with unfinished visuals, with an introduction by Fowler.

Rounding out the bonus materials are a four-minute music video and a two-minute blooper reel.

Shout! Factory Sets Home Release Dates for ‘Standing Up, Falling Down’

Shout! Factory has set a March 31 home release date for Standing Up, Falling Down, a comedy film directed by Matt Ratner and written by Peter Hoare.

Starring Billy Crystal, Ben Schwartz, and Eloise Mumford, the film premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and will be available to home audiences on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, and digital on demand.

After years of chasing his stand-up comedy dream in Los Angeles, 34-year-old Scott (Schwartz) crashes and burns. Left with little money and a failed career, he has no choice but to regroup and return to his parent’s house in Long Island. Trying to figure out what to do next, he pines after his ex (Mumford), a successful photographer who had since married a former mutual friend. During a night out at the bar, he meets an eccentric dermatologist (Crystal) who, having regrets of his own, helps Scott find the courage to face his failures.

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Bonus features include the theatrical trailer, audio commentary with director Ratner and stars  Crystal and Schwartz, and a three-part look at the making of Standing Up, Falling Down.