Violent Night

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Action;
Box Office $49.72 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references.
Stars David Harbour, John Leguizamo, Leah Brady, Alex Hassell, Alexis Louder, Cam Gigandet, Brendan Fletcher, Beverly D’Angelo.

Director Tommy Wirkola’s Violent Night throws a wrinkle into the debate over whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie with an indelible spin on the concept: what if the hero of Die Hard was actually Santa Claus?

Just in case the title doesn’t make it clear how irreverent this action comedy wants to be, the way Violent Night introduces its Santa Claus certainly will: getting sloshed in a bar on Christmas Eve to prepare for the big night ahead of him. The other patrons assume he’s just another washed up mall Santa, until the bartender sees him flying away in his sleigh, just in time for the inebriated giftgiver to hurl a special surprise.

After 1,100 years on the job, this Santa, as played by David Harbour, is cynical and put upon, complaining about the increasing ingratitude of the children to whom he’s tasked with delivering presents. As if that weren’t enough, one of his stops is a mansion that has just been taken over by a team of heavily armed thieves led by John Leguizamo, who is holding the family that lives there hostage while he robs the vault of $300 million in cash from military contracts.

When his reindeer fly away after being spooked by gunfire, Santa is forced to battle his way through an array of holiday-themed bad guys, finding encouragement from Trudy (Leah Brady), the youngest member of the family who manages to escape with a walkie-talkie and reaches out to Santa for help.

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A hilarious send-up of both the action and Christmas genres, Violent Night takes great delight in reimagining Santa tropes to match the action premise, particularly his magical bag of infinite toys, and his power to enter and exit chimneys. Even the character’s backstory is given a neat twist, presenting Santa as a Viking warrior in his human life, which certainly explains his combat skills.

As if the heavy Die Hard vibes weren’t enough, the film also manages to pay homage to Home Alone as well, with Trudy setting up a series of elaborate booby traps to slow down the attackers, only this time the traps are played more for ‘R’-rated blood and gore than ‘PG’ slapstick, which doesn’t make the violence any less amusing. (This is an obvious riff on the meme that the comical traps in the “Home Alone” movies would actually be lethal.)

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The Blu-ray includes a commentary with Wirkola, producer Guy Danella, and writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller, which turns out to be a fun and informative discussion about how ideas for the film evolved into their final form, plus what we might see in a sequel.

There are also 19 minutes of deleted and extended scenes that offer a few more of the Christmas-themed puns that are sprinkled throughout the film.

The Blu-ray also offers three behind-the-scenes featurettes: The six-minute “Santa’s Helpers: The Making of Violent Night” offers a solid overview of the production, while the six-minute “Deck the Halls With Brawls” focuses on the action scenes, and the four-minute “Quarrelin’ Kringle” shines the spotlight on Harbour’s perfect casting as a brawler Santa.

Walmart Partners With NGL Collective to Foster Latino Filmmakers

NGL Collective, a digital media and entertainment destination for Latinos in America, has announced a new partnership with Walmart on an incubator to foster Latino filmmakers. 

The program will provide eight Latino filmmakers with resources that will help them prepare and better position themselves in front of Hollywood studios and producers. The program will also provide mentorship from the co-founder of NGL Collective, actor, writer and producer John Leguizamo, who will bring firsthand experience.

Mitú, which merged with NGL earlier this year, will provide filmmaker mentees access to mitúStudios, based in Los Angeles, where they will have the opportunity to work alongside other Latino creators on multiple projects, including the development, production and editing of their short films. Development materials created include three-act structures, story circles, scripts, shot lists, storyboards and production design mood boards.

“Walmart recognizes Latinos are a critical part of this country’s creativity, inspiration and culture,” D.J. Vaughn, director of multicultural marketing partnerships at Walmart U.S., said in a statement. “In looking to support this community and amplify authentic experiences, we could think of no better partner than NGL Collective.”

“Walmart understands Latinos play a critical role in shaping American culture, and mitú is the most authentic, credible destination for them in the United States,” Joe Bernard, chief revenue officer at NGL Collective, said in a statement. “This partnership continues NGL’s work of helping America’s top companies tap into this community with intention and purpose that matters while delivering results for both businesses and consumers nationwide.”

The program was born out of MAPA, mitú’s Accelerator Program for the Arts, and will take participants through the entire storytelling process, including writing and directing, alongside chief creative officer and award-winning director Ben DeJesus.

To further support each mentee, Walmart will provide each of them with a “Creator Kit” consisting of a GoPro camera, sound equipment, lighting equipment and more.

“I am excited to play a role in the development of these young Latino filmmakers and am excited to see firsthand the impact that this program will make in the media and entertainment industry,” Leguizamo said in a statement. “While there is still progress to be made, these are the kinds of efforts that increase Latinx representation in the entertainment industry in front of and behind the camera. NGL Collective and our mitú platform is more committed than ever to being a part of the solution for more inclusion within the industry.”

Latinos  continue to be vastly underrepresented, with only 7% of film leads going to Latino actors, according to the latest UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report.

“As a Latino in media, I see the value this program brings to young filmmakers,” said Ben DeJesus, chief creative officer at NGL Collective. “When I began my career, there wasn’t anything like it and now with the help of our partners at Walmart, we’re delivering the promise of storytelling in the language of each individual’s experiences through their voices and talents.”

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The program is an accelerated seven-week film program running from November to January. Eight filmmakers were chosen from a call for submissions on mitú’s social platforms, as well as from a network of colleges and universities across the nation. Candidates were chosen based on their personal stories and creative vision. Out of 75 submissions, 40 candidates were interviewed to arrive at the final eight.   

The selected mentees come from California, New York, Texas and Virginia. Each aspiring filmmaker brings a unique set of experiences. Examples include a Director’s Assistant on Lucasfilm projects, a Columbia University student studying film, and an apprentice to their wedding videographer father. Each mentee has some familiarity with the entertainment industry, and each of them is aspiring to establish their creative voice and tell their own stories.  

Encanto

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Disney;
Animated;
Box Office $95.36 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for some thematic elements and mile peril.
Voices of Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero.

The 60th feature film from the Walt Disney Animation studio, the colorful Encanto provides a heartfelt story with strong Latin American flair that will keep audiences thoroughly entertained.

With songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the film tells the story of a small Colombian village protected by magic and watched over by the Madrigal family. The family’s matriarch, Abuela (María Cecilia Botero), was fleeing oppression with her three children when her husband was killed by a pursuing force. Out of anger and despair, she unleashes a magical blast that propels her attackers and creates the encanto, a charmed realm hidden by mountains. The magic protecting the new village is contained in a perpetually lit candle that gives members of the Madrigal family special powers on their fifth birthday, with the exception of Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who is seemingly given no gift.

Now 15 and coping with being the only member of her family without powers, Mirabel finds herself as the key to resolving a prophecy that could mean the end of the encanto and the destruction of her family.

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Among the slew of extras is a sing-along mode that displays lyrics on screen, and the ability to jump to any song in the film.

Featurettes include the 24-minute “Familia lo es Todo” about the film’s strong family themes, the 17-and-a-half-minute “Discover Colombia” about the cultural touchstones of the film, the 24-minute “A Journey Through Music,” the eight-minute “Let’s Talk About Bruno” about a key character and the signature song focused on him, the 10-and-a-half-minute “Our Casita” about the film’s magical living house, and the two-and-a-half minute travelogue “Journey to Colombia.”

There’s also a three-minute clip of outtakes, and four deleted sequences in storyboard form that with filmmaker introductions run a total of about 20 minutes.

Also accompanying the film is the delightful nine-minute animated short Far From the Tree about a family of raccoons that imparts harsh survival lessons down through the generations.

FilmRise Acquires Streaming Rights to ‘Dark Blood’

FilmRise has announced the acquisition of Dark Blood, starring Tony and Emmy award-winning, John Leguizamo (John Wick, Carlito’s Way, Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet, Ice Age). The deal gives FilmRise theatrical, digital and broadcast rights in North and South America. The movie is directed by Colombian filmmaker Harold Trompetero (Diastole y systole: Los movimientos del Corazon, Violet of a Thousand Colors, Riverside) and follows a father imprisoned after committing a crime avenging the death of his son.

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“John Leguizamo’s performance in Dark Blood is a tour de force,” Danny Fisher, CEO of FilmRise, said in a statement. “The power, fear and compassion that Trompetero evokes through Leguizamo’s performance is a testament to his impressive directing skills.”

The film will have its North American premiere this September coinciding with National Hispanic Heritage Month. The deal was negotiated by Katie Carroll, manager, independent film acquisition at FilmRise, and Priscilla Ross Smith, CEO of The Coven, a sales agency in Lyon, France.

Thriller ‘The Night Clerk’ Due on DVD April 7

The thriller The Night Clerk will come out on DVD April 7 from Saban Films and Paramount Home Entertainment.

The film is already available on digital and on demand.

Tye Sheridan stars as hotel night clerk Bart Bromley, who is a highly intelligent young man on the autism spectrum. When a woman is murdered during his shift, Bart becomes the prime suspect. As the police investigation closes in, Bart makes a personal connection with a beautiful guest named Andrea (Ana De Armas), but soon realizes he must stop the real murderer before she becomes the next victim.

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The film also stars Helen Hunt as Ethel Bromley and John Leguizamo as Detective Espada.

Kino Unveils ‘Mo’ Better Blues,’ ‘Jungle Fever’ and Other Spike Lee Classics on Blu-ray

Kino Lorber Studio Classics has released on Blu-ray five films by director Spike Lee, Mo’ Better BluesJungle Fever, Crooklyn, Clockers and Summer of Sam.

Summer of Sam is also available on DVD.

Each Blu-ray includes optional English subtitles as well as the theatrical trailer for the film. CrooklynClockers and Summer of Sam all include 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Lossless Stereo audio options. Mo’ Better Blues and Clockers both include a new audio commentary by film critic Kameron Austin Collins. Summer of Sam also includes “Fear City,” a new interview with John Leguizamo, and audio commentary by Lee and Leguizamo.

Mo’ Better Blues (1990) follows talented trumpeter Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington) who’s obsessed by his music and indecisive about his two girlfriends (Joie Lee and Cynda Williams). But when he has to come to the aid of his manager and childhood friend (Lee), Bleek finds his world more fragile than he ever imagined. The cast also includes Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, Robin Harris, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Nicholas Turturro, Samuel L. Jackson, Charlie Murphy, Abbey Lincoln and Rubén Blades.

Jungle Fever (1991) explores the provocative consequences of interracial relationships. African American architect Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes) begins an affair with his working-class Italian American secretary, Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra), which causes them to be scrutinized by their friends, cast out from their families and shunned by their neighbors. The film also stars Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Anthony Quinn, John Turturro, Samuel L. Jackson, Halle Berry, Tim Robbins, Lonette McKee, Frank Vincent, Brad Dourif, Nicholas Turturro, Michael Imperioli, Michael Badalucco, Debi Mazar, Theresa Randle, Rick Aiello, Miguel Sandoval and Charlie Murphy. It features music by Stevie Wonder.

Crooklyn (1994) is a semi-autobiographical portrait of a schoolteacher, her stubborn jazz musician husband and their five kids living in Brooklyn in 1973. The film follows the Carmichael family as they experience one very special summer in their Brooklyn neighborhood that they’ve affectionately nicknamed Crooklyn. Lee fashions a bold, flavorful picture of family life starring the wonderful Alfre Woodard as Carolyn, a loving, but fiercely independent mother who, along with her musician husband Woody (Delroy Lindo), struggles to raise their family in difficult but often wonderful circumstances. The supporting cast includes Lee, David Patrick Kelly, Zelda Harris, Isaiah Washington, José Zúñiga and Vondie Curtis-Hall.

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Clockers (1995) is a crime-drama based on a book by Richard Price (The Wanderers), who co-wrote the screenplay with Lee. A “clocker” is a 24-hour drug dealer, and Strike (Mekhi Phifer) is the hardest-working one on the streets. But for Strike, time is running out. When the local drug kingpin tips Strike off about an opportunity for advancement, a rival dealer ends up dead, and Strike suddenly finds himself caught between two homicide detectives. One is Mazilli (John Turturro), who’s only looking for an easy bust. The other is Rocco (Harvey Keitel), who’s looking for something much harder to find-the truth-and when Strike’s law-abiding brother confesses to the murder, Rocco vows not to rest until he’s sure the real shooter is behind bars. The film also includes performances by Delroy Lindo, Keith David, Isaiah Washington, Regina Taylor and Michael Imperioli.

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Summer of Sam (1999) is Lee’s take on the “Son of Sam” murders in New York City during the summer of 1977, centering on the residents of an Italian-American Bronx neighborhood who live in fear and distrust of one another. The heat is soaring to record highs, blackouts are filling the streets with looters and the murders of a man who calls himself the Son of Sam are gripping the city in fear. As friends in a small Bronx community become obsessed with the idea that the Son of Sam is someone nearby, the madman’s fearsome plague of terror becomes the catalyst that prompts relationships to fall apart and trust to disintegrate into dread. The film stars John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Esposito, Michael Rispoli, Bebe Neuwirth, Patti LuPone, Mike Starr, Anthony LaPaglia and Ben Gazzara.

Paramount Brings ‘Playing With Fire’ Home Digitally Jan. 21, on Disc Feb. 4

Paramount Home Entertainment will release the comedy Playing With Fire through digital retailers Jan. 21, and on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and on demand Feb. 4.

The movie stars John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key and John Leguizamo as a team of firefighters who rescue three siblings from a wildfire and find themselves unprepared for the task of babysitting them as they try to locate the children’s parents.

Playing With Fire earned $43.3 million at the domestic box office.

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Blu-ray and digital extras include deleted scenes; bloopers; the featurettes “Lighting up the Laughs,” “The Director’s Diaries: Read by Star Cast,” “What It Means to be a Family” and “The Real Smokejumpers: This Is Their Story”; and Cena as Capt. Jake reading a bedtime story with an amusing twist.

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