Palm Springs

STREAMING REVIEW:

Hulu;
Comedy;
Rated ‘R’ for sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some violence.
Stars Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin.

The idea of reliving the same day repeatedly has become a reliable trope of movies and TV shows looking for a fun way to subject their characters to some existential angst.

Movies such as 1993’s Groundhog Day play the premise for laughs. A sci-fi version of the time loop might put more emphasis on the causes of the phenomenon and how the characters can escape it, such as with 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow or the 1992 “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode “Cause and Effect” (which aired nearly a year before Groundhog Day hit theaters). Still other uses can be for horror (the “Happy Death Day” franchise), or to solve a mystery (as in the TV show “Day Break”).

The often hiliarious, sometimes poignant Palm Springs, the latest effort from the Lonely Island comedy team, steers somewhat in between the comedy and sci-fi approaches to great effect.

Andy Samberg stars as Nyles, who continuously wakes up the day of Nov. 9 to attend a wedding in the California desert oasis town of Palm Springs with his girlfriend, the maid of honor. As he discovers she’s cheating on him, he feels completely unfettered to pursue whatever crazy hook-ups he can, knowing the day will reset. Eventually he fixates on Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the sister of the bride, and they run off into the desert to make out. When Nyles is attacked, however, he inadvertently leads her into a mysterious glowing cave that ends up trapping her in the time loop as well, much to her chagrin.

Nyles lays out the rules for her: If she returns to the cave, or dies, or falls asleep, the day resets. Having no desire to relive her sister’s wedding over and over again, she begrudgingly begins hanging out with Nyles since he’s pretty much the only person who can comprehend what she’s going through.

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The movie breaks from previous iterations of the premise by leaning hard into the romantic comedy angle of the story as it touches on the idea of how multiple people experiencing the time loop together would adapt to the situation. For the most part, it means having wacky adventures for self-amusement and to alleviate boredom. There’s also some fun playing around with alternate timelines, and the slightest hint, though the concept goes largely unexplored, of the idea of an underground culture of people who are all caught in the time loop (J.K. Simmons pops up from time to time as yet another person trapped in the loop, and finding his own ways of dealing with it).

Sarah’s problem, though, is that no matter how much happiness she finds with Nyles, her day always begins with a reminder of a mistake for which, thanks to the time loop, she can never atone. Thus sets up one of the key philosophical conflicts of the film, as Nyles tries to remind her that while their consequences have no actions upon anyone else, the two of them will remember, and that can weigh heavily on the soul. Of course, that just makes her more determined to find some way to escape the loop.

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While Nyles is a pretty typical character for Samberg, who plays him as a hedonistic loafer bemused by his circumstances, the key casting is Milioti, who deftly handles the comedic and intellectual pathos required for Sarah’s story arc in a way that’s hard to imagine many actresses being able to pull off. While many remember Milioti as the eponymous “mother” in the final season of “How I Met Your Mother,” her role here is more akin to her turn in the Emmy-winning “USS Callister” episode of Netflix’s “Black Mirror” as the crew member least willing to accept her place in the simulation as she rallies those trapped with her to find a way out of it.

Her efforts in Palm Springs will likely result in the film an eminently watchable comedy on its own, once fans have had a chance to loop through it a few times themselves on Hulu.

Oscar-Lauded ‘Whiplash’ Coming to 4K UHD Sept. 22 From Sony

The Oscar-launded film Whiplash is coming out on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Sept. 22 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Written and directed by Academy Award-winner Damien Chazelle and starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons in an Oscar-winning performance, the 2014  film is newly remastered in 4K with High Dynamic Range and Dolby Atmos audio. The 4K Ultra HD release also includes the film and special features on Blu-ray, plus a digital version of the film.

The story follows Andrew Neyman (Teller), an ambitious young jazz drummer, single-minded in his pursuit to rise to the top of his elite east coast music conservatory. Terence Fletcher (Simmons), an instructor known equally for his teaching talents and his terrifying methods, discovers Andrew and transfers him into his band. Andrew’s passion to achieve perfection soon spirals into obsession, as his ruthless teacher continues to push him to the brink of both his ability and his sanity.

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Bonus materials include:

  • commentary with writer/director Chazelle and Simmons
  • “An Evening at the Toronto International Film Festival” with Teller, Simmons and Chazelle
  • “Timekeepers,” in which famous drummers discuss their craft and passion for drumming
  • the Whiplashoriginal thort film with optional commentary
  • a deleted scene
  • the theatrical trailer.

The Front Runner

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/12/19;
Sony Pictures;
Drama;
Box Office $2 million;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language including some sexual references.
Stars Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, J.K. Simmons, Alfred Molina, Sara Paxton, Mamoudou Athie, Spencer Garrett, Ari Graynor, Kaitlyn Dever, Steve Zissis, Bill Burr, Mike Judge, Kevin Pollak, Tommy Dewey, Molly Ephraim, Josh Brener.

The bright future of a rising political star runs smack into the maxim that “a lot can happen in three weeks” in director Jason Reitman’s exploration of the relationship between politics and media.

The Front Runner isn’t much of a political movie, in that it doesn’t overtly deviate into policy debates. Nor does it lay out any easy answers or preach to the audience what to think.

The docudrama relates the brief campaign of former Colorado senator Gary Hart (Hugh Jackman) for the presidential election of 1988, when he was considered the most likely nominee upon entering the race in April 1987.

Hart had come close to becoming the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 1984 and was considered a favorite for securing the spot for 1988. However, dogged by rumors of womanizing, Hart challenged a Washington Post reporter to follow him around, claiming anyone who did so would be “very bored.” Subsequently, a team from the Miami Herald decided to do just that after receiving an anonymous tip that Hart was having an affair was planning to host the girl in Washington, D.C.

When the Herald reported that Hart had been seen at his home with a potential campaign worker named Donna Rice (Sara Paxton), the story exploded, though Hart denied having any inappropriate relationship.

Hart bristled at the notion that the public and the media should have any interest in a politician’s private life, but the exposure took a toll on his family, and within a week his political career was over (save for a brief return to the presidential race in December 1987, which the movie doesn’t get into, and some appointments during the Obama administration).

Reitman, who co-wrote the screenplay with journalist Matt Bai and political operative Jay Carson, describes the event as a defining moment of tabloid journalism swerving into politics, fueled by the expansion of telecommunications technology and the rise of the 24-hour news cycle.

In the past, members of the media had made an almost tacit agreement to ignore the infidelities of the politicians they covered. But at some point, notions of character and morality began to intertwine with notions of policy and perceptions of leadership, shining an ever-wider spotlight on the personal lives of those seeking the public trust.

The Front Runner

As relayed in the bonus materials, in Reitman’s eyes, the Hart incident serves to presage a modern media environment in which every scrap of social media will be scoured, every statement dredged up and over-analyzed, and every stone unturned in an effort to extract a partisan toll.

In terms of framing the story, then, Reitman asks two competing questions: “what is important?” versus “what is entertaining?” Accordingly, he constructs almost every scene to give the audience more than one thing to focus on, putting it on the viewer to decide what is more important to the story, and how it reflects the overall message of the film.

But in leaving so much for the audience to decide, The Front Runner ends up as more of a conversation starter than a definitive statement on the issue.

Fortunately, the regular trappings of cinema on hand make for an otherwise entertaining movie. The performances are spot on, and Reitman does a nice job handling an all-star cast whose orbs of influence only occasionally intersect.

Likewise, Reitman deftly captures the feel of the 1980s with some subtle camerawork that reinforces the costumes and set design in evoking the mood of the period. In particular, Reitman notes, is his insistence on letting the rawness of the film as a medium speak for itself, and not to clean up the image using modern computer editing.

The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary with Reitman, producer Helen Estabrook, production designer Steve Saklad, costume designer Danny Glocker and cinematographer Eric Steelberg, in which they delve into all the techniques and artistic touches they layered into the film.

There’s also a 15-minute featurette called “The Unmaking of a Candidate” that touches on the making of the film and the themes it’s exploring.

There are also three deleted scenes, including a slightly alternate opening sequence, that run about four-and-a-half minutes.

Animated Film ‘The Boxcar Children: Surprise Island’ Due on Disc From Shout! Factory Aug. 7

The animated feature film The Boxcar Children — Surprise Island will come out on Blu-ray and DVD Aug. 7 from Legacy Classics and Shout! Factory’s Shout! Kids.

A movie adaption of the popular children’s book of the same name, The Boxcar Children — Surprise Island follows the adventures of the orphaned Boxcar Children as they spend a summer living on their grandfather’s small, nearly uninhabited island. There they meet the mysterious Joe, who is inexplicably living on their island. The film features the voices of Martin Sheen (“The West Wing”) as James Alden, J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) as Dr. Moore, Dane DeHaan (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) as Joe, Joey King (Independence Day: Resurgence) as Jesse Alden, Carter Sand (Frozen) as Benny Alden, Gil Birmingham (Twilight) as Lonan Browning, Griffin Gluck (Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life) as Henry Alden, Stephen Stanton (Star Wars Rebels) as Capt. Daniel and Talitha Bateman (Love, Simon) as Violet.

The title is available for pre-order at Amazon.com or shoutfactory.com and is Dove approved for all ages.

The Boxcar Children — Surprise Island is the first of three new animated features to be adapted from the “The Boxcar Children” book series as part of a partnership between Shout! Kids and Legacy Classics.

“The Boxcar Children” series from author Gertrude Chandler Warner is one of the best-selling children’s book series of all time, which having just marked its 75th anniversary, has sold more than 70 million books worldwide.

Headquartered in Los Angeles, Legacy Classics has animation and visual effects studios in Seoul, Jakarta and Bali. Founded by Dan Chuba and Mark Dippé, the company is dedicated to creating family entertainment and educational tools based on classic and award-winning children’s literature.

Justice League

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 3/13/18;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $229.01 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 3D BD, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi violence and action.
Stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, Connie Nielsen, Diane Lane, Billy Crudup, Ciaran Hinds.

As a movie, Justice League is a perfectly fine, entertaining superhero adventure, in which Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) recruit a handful of superheroes to fight an alien invasion. Except, you just can’t shake the feeling that it could have been so much more.

This was supposed to be the DC Comics version of Marvel Studios’ The Avengers, with the greatest superheroes of all time finally coming together on the big screen. But with Marvel’s cinematic universe having such a head start (Black Panther is the 18th MCU film, while Justice League is just the fifth for DC), the DC films creative team took a few creative shortcuts to try to jump-start its mega franchise, mostly by foregoing introductory films for many of the characters and relying on the audience to have built-in knowledge of and nostalgia for who the characters are supposed to be.

In that regard, Justice League is primarily a sequel to 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which introduced Wonder Woman in advance of her own solo film, as well as most of the concepts meant to pay off in Justice League. But when audiences balked at BvS being too long and confusing, the studio allegedly mandated trimming Justice League to a manageable two hours, leaving little room for complex plot dynamics or character development.

So, where the Marvel films have become an intriguing network of interconnected stories and characters that invite and enable audience investment, the DC films have mostly been disposable popcorn entertainment, about as distinct a representation of the characters as any of the direct-to-video animated DC Universe movies, or the multitude of DC-based shows on the CW, which managed to pull off their own mega-crossover shortly after Justice League came out that many fans considered a much better example of how to present a satisfying superhero team-up.

The film itself was vastly overshadowed by rumors of production issues, as director Zack Snyder left the project following a family tragedy, and Avengers director Joss Whedon stepped in to guide re-shoots and post-production. That led to some fans trying to dissect the film to determine who directed what, with most guessing incorrectly. Then, irony of ironies, once the film came out, the fan base that decried Snyder’s vision as having muddled both Man of Steel and BvS suddenly demanded a mythical “Snyder Cut” of Justice League, as if he were suddenly their favorite filmmaker (a dichotomy somewhat echoed by the “Star Wars” fans who hated the unfamiliarity of The Last Jedi after criticizing The Force Awakens for being too familiar).

The Blu-ray offers no hint of whatever behind-the-scenes discord influenced what finally ended up on screen. For what it’s worth, Whedon is never mentioned in the bonus materials, and there’s plenty of footage of Snyder on set and praise from the cast for his direction.

Anyway, the film is fun, flashy and filled with action, though the abundance of CGI makes most of it look like it came from a video game. (I won’t even get into the controversy about Henry Cavill’s moustache grown for Mission: Impossible — Fallout having to be digitally removed because Paramount wouldn’t let him shave it for the JL reshoots.) And there are plenty of moments that comic book fans should enjoy, particularly when it comes to the homages to the classic versions of the characters.

Another highlight is the musical score from Danny Elfman, who mostly abandons the sound from the previous films in favor of something more akin to his traditional filmmusic sensibilities. In this case, that means straight-up re-using his own Batman theme from 1989 and John Williams’ classic Superman theme. Whether it serves the franchise will be open to debate, but it’s certainly helps fuel the nostalgia the film needs for the audience to embrace its version of the characters. (Though for some perspective, there were 21 years between the 1960s Batman show and the 1989 Tim Burton movie where Elfman debuted his theme, and then 25 years between Batman Returns and the theme’s return in Justice League; it’s no surprise some fans might have found it a bit jarring).

On top of all that, Justice League also serves as a decent set-up for the upcoming Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Flash (Ezra Miller) movies, and with a little tweaking to the DC formula a team-up sequel with the same characters and some new additions wouldn’t be unwelcome.

With rumors the film was heavily edited from its original intentions, there has been a lot of speculation about what deleted scenes were out there. Notably, the Justice League home video versions do not include an extended cut of the film, as happened with previous DC entries BvS and Suicide Squad. Instead, the Blu-ray includes just two short deleted scenes, running a total of two minutes, tying into the “Return of Superman” subplot.

The rest of the extras consist of about an hour of behind-the-scenes material, segmented into shorter featurettes. Most interesting for fans of the lore will be the “Road to Justice” featurette that traces some of the history of the characters.