Long Shot

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 7/30/19;
Lionsgate;
Comedy;
Box Office $30.32 million;
$29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use.
Stars Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael, Lisa Kudrow, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgård.

The often crude but usually charming Long Shot reframes the tropes of the romantic comedy by setting them against the backdrop of the arena of American politics, blended with a touch of stoner humor for good measure.

It’s The American President by way of Pineapple Express, as secretary of state and presidential candidate Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) has a chance encounter with Fred, an opinionated writer (Seth Rogen) she used to babysit, and asks him to join her campaign as a speechwriter. As they grow closer, some of her refinement starts to rub off on him while he helps her loosen up a bit, both in the pharmacological and carnal sense. This leaves the rest of her staff to wonder what the potential relationship could mean for the campaign.

Though set in the political world, the love story doesn’t get bogged down with too many political specifics, which is probably for the best as the political landscape presented in the film doesn’t bear much scrutiny. Then again, the film isn’t aiming for Sorkin levels of verisimilitude here.

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Charlotte is basing her presidential campaign on a major environmental initiative, which Fred likes, but works for an administration that Fred ultimately opposes, with a president (Bob Odenkirk) who used to play a president on a TV show and decides to forgo a second term to cash in his popularity to pursue a film career.

The president will endorse Charlotte to replace him if she doesn’t make too many waves, but his media tycoon buddy (Andy Serkis, unrecognizable in heavy prosthetic makeup) wants to chip away at the effectiveness of her activism. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s chief of staff (June Diane Raphael) wants to set her up with the equally available, but socially awkward, prime minister of Canada (Alexander Skarsgård). The more willing Charlotte is to compromise herself for political expediency, the more Fred is left to wonder where the candidate ends and the woman he may be falling in love with begins.

The satirical look at the broader strokes of the American political system are cute, but let’s face it, the odds of the nation’s chief diplomat getting away with negotiating a hostage crisis while high on Molly are slim to none. So, the only way the movie works is if the audience buys the relationship between Charlotte and Fred, and luckily Rogen and Theron work well together, finding an easygoing chemistry that helps us enjoy their adventures for what they are.

The Blu-ray includes about 100 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes that cover everything from the writing to the casting to the wardrobe. The most interesting is an interview with comic book artist Todd McFarlane, who contributes a key piece of art to one of the funniest gags in the film.

Long Shot

Season Four of ‘Better Call Saul’ Coming to Disc May 7 From Sony

Season four of “Better Call Saul” will land on Blu-ray and DVD May 7 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

In the critically acclaimed show’s fourth season, the death of Jimmy McGill’s brother catalyzes his transformation into the bigger-than-life legal legend Saul Goodman.  Now, Jimmy steps into the criminal world, putting his future as a lawyer — and his relationship with Kim Wexler — in deep jeopardy.

Bob Odenkirk (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) stars as McGill, Jonathan Banks (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) as Mike Ehrmantraut, Rhea Seehorn (TV’s “Franklin & Bash”) as Wexler, Patrick Fabian (The Last Exorcism) as Howard Hamlin, Michael Mando (TV’s “Orphan Black”) as Nacho Varga, and Giancarlo Esposito (TV’s “Breaking Bad”) as Gus Fring.

The disc sets contain all 10 episodes and includes cast and crew audio commentaries on every episode, a gag reel, and the featurette “Slippin’ Kimmy,” which explores the complex character Kim Wexler, whose personal and professional triumphs are threatened by the temptation to cut corners. Also included are ten Madrigal Security Training Videos with Mike Ehrmantraut and the short film “No Picnic” featuring fan-favorite characters The Kettlemans. Blu-ray exclusive content includes seven deleted scenes, three storyboard scene comparisons, a directorial walk-through, and two featurettes: “Flashing Forward, Looking Back,” which highlights the show’s use of non-linear storytelling to explore the many layers of Jimmy’s transformation, and “Constructing the Superlab,” which takes an in-depth look at the process of building Gus Fring’s Superlab both on and off-screen.

Incredibles 2

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 11/6/18;
Disney;
Animated;
Box Office $608.14 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $44.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for action sequences and some brief mild language.
Voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huckleberry Milner, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk, Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Bird, Jonathan Banks.

Judging from the various anecdotes related in the Blu-ray bonus materials, one of the biggest challenges to crafting the long-awaited sequel to 2004’s The Incredibles was simply figuring out how to begin the film.

In fact, a significant chunk of the 40 minutes of deleted scenes included on the bonus disc are devoted to this challenge, with scene after scene of discarded ideas that just seem to be expanding on various story points established in the first film (such as a funeral for all the heroes killed by Syndrome) without contributing much to making the story of the second film a cohesive piece on its own.

So, after a 14-year-gap between the films, director Brad Bird and the filmmakers at Pixar finally decided to just pick up where the first film left off, with the Parr family preparing to battle the Underminer’s invasion of the city.

And that really was the best way to go, as it sets up a great action sequence right away while providing a clean entry into the story of the second film, which involves the efforts of a wealthy industrialist (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) to make superheroes legal again. Not to mention it pays off the tease of the Underminer’s attack, which I always wanted to see.

The sequel then settles into a formula similar to the first film, only this time it’s Helen (Holly Hunter) who takes up the task of superheroism, leaving Bob (Craig T. Nelson) to watch the kids. A new wrinkle is how Jack Jack develops his newly discovered powers, much to the surprise of the rest of the family. One of the highlights is bare-knuckle brawl between the baby and a raccoon that wanders into the backyard (a sequence originally created for the first film and based on an experience Bird witnessed between a raccoon and his dog).

And of course there’s a new villain who hates superheroes and wants to stop them all and the family has to unite to stop the evil scheme and yada yada. It’s a worthy sequel to the original that tries to freshen up the concept a bit with a story that when combined with the first film really ends up feeling like the second half of a whole.

The animation is an advancement from the first film, maintaining the same basic style but with improved detail as a result of more sophisticated techniques in CGI. And some of the character designs have been updated a bit as well.

The centerpiece of the extras is the fun new five-minute short film Auntie Edna, which details the events hinted at in the film in which superhero costumer and supplier Edna Mode babysits Jack Jack and creates a super-suit that can handle his powers. This makes it somewhat of a parallel piece with the Jack Jack Attack short created with the first film that details another babysitter dealing with the baby’s powers while the family is off the adventure from that movie.

Incredibles 2 can also be played with an optional audio commentary with the animators, so its focus is more on the visual designs and the experience of working on the film in general.

There are also more than 70 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes spread across the two Blu-ray discs. (Depending on the combo pack, the DVD or 4K UHD disc represent a third disc in the package). And a number of the 10 aforementioned deleted scenes do expand on sequences that did make it into the final cut. And there are other goodies such as character theme song videos and toy commercials that are good for a moment of amusement.

The disc also comes with the poignant short film Bao, which accompanied Incredibles 2 in theaters, and a behind-the-scenes featurette about the short.

There are also two digital exclusives that can be accessed by redeeming the digital copy code at Movies Anywhere. The first involves extensive breakdowns of two key sequences in the film (the raccoon fight and some action scenes with Helen) that run 21 minutes total. More interesting is “The Coolest Guy in the Room,” a three-minute biography of Samuel L. Jackson, who discusses what drew him to comic books.

Vudu offers an additional featurette (that seems culled from footage found in other included videos) as well as the Jack Jack Attack short, which was previously available separately at the site and not part of the digital extras of the first Incredibles.

The Post

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Fox;
Drama;
Box Office $81.88 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for language and brief war violence.
Stars Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Carrie Coon, Bruce Greenwood, Jesse Plemons, Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, David Cross, Zach Woods.

Even before seeing the movie, the obvious question surrounding The Post is why the filmmakers would decide to focus a story about the publication of the Pentagon Papers on the efforts of The Washington Post newspaper when the bulk of the material was broken by The New York Times.

After watching it, though, it’s a lot easier to understand some of the reasons director Steven Spielberg guided the film along the approach it took.

For one, there just seems to be much more storytelling to mine from the Washington Post perspective, whereas a Times POV would likely have been a more straightforward legal drama about the relationship between the press and government.

At the time, the Post was still seen as primarily a local D.C. publication without the broad national following it has now. Financially strapped, the paper issued an IPO that could have been threatened by any legal troubles encountered as a result of publishing the leaked documents copied from a classified report that exposed government deception in the conduct of the Vietnam War.

And that’s on top of the expected discussions of the role of journalism in a democracy and defending the First Amendment against government pushback, with the Times included in all those story points anyway.

There’s also an argument to be made that the primary interest of the film isn’t even about the Pentagon Papers to begin with.

Certainly, looking at the film from the prism of the Pentagon Papers as the subject matter makes it seem like it’s the story of a minor newspaper jumping on the bandwagon of a bigger newspaper to gain stature.

But keeping a bigger picture in mind, the film is much more about how the Post rose in prominence under the leadership of publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), and that the Pentagon Papers just happened to be the catalyst.

From Spielberg’s perspective, it probably didn’t hurt that this approach also allowed him to devote significant screen time to Graham in depicting the ascension of a female publisher in a man’s world.

Spielberg also seems interested in positioning the film as a prequel of sorts to All the President’s Men, showing how the Post became the paper that drove coverage of the Watergate break-in.

As such, The Post is more fascinating for its procedural aspects and character dynamics for any actual history it’s trying to explore. The film also sees itself as an allegorical commentary on criticism of President Trump’s relationship to the media, and his tendency to label detractors as “fake news,” but these aspects of the film are really only going to appeal to choirs expecting to be preached to. One could be completely oblivious to such perceived messaging and still find the film immensely entertaining. The performances are terrific and the nitty-gritty details of classic print journalism are just fun to see, particularly contrasted with the digital simplicity of today.

The Blu-ray includes a number of good behind-the-scenes featurettes that detail the making of the film and explore the real-life circumstances being explored. This being a Spielberg movie, there’s also a featurette about the music composed by longtime collaborator John Williams, this being their 28th film together.