‘TMNT: Mutant Mayhem’ Disc Release Party

Paramount celebrated the Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem with a pizza party at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles Dec. 14. The party followed an LA Tastemaker screening of the film, which grossed nearly $120 million at the domestic box office. Among the celebrities in attendance were Seth Rogen, who co-wrote the story and screenplay. A reboot of the “Turtles” film franchise, TMNT: Mutant Mayhem follows the four Turtles as they encounter an army of mutants while on the hunt for a mysterious crime syndicate.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Animated;
Box Office $572.97 million;
$34.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $49.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for action and mild violence.
Voices of Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Anya Taylor-Joy, Keegan-Michael Key, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen, Sebastian Maniscalco, Kevin Michael Richardson, Khary Payton, Charles Martinet.

Most movies based on video games tend to be unsatisfying because the process of Hollywood writers digesting the essence of the game for mainstream audiences usually makes the final product unrecognizable to the games’ fans.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie bucks that trend by essentially just putting a video game on the big screen. The film takes iconic elements straight from several video games connected to the “Super Mario Bros.” franchise and condenses them into a single narrative. And in doing so, the film isn’t trying to be anything more than what it is — an adaptation of a series of video games about a pair of plumbers fighting a fire-breathing turtle king in a land of magic mushrooms.

It gets away with such a distillation because the animation lends itself to the bright flashy visual splendor of the games and doesn’t create an expectation of realism, which is the trap most game adaptations fall into. The 1993 live-action version of Super Mario Bros., for instance, was an unmitigated disaster because it reinterpreted the concept into an action sci-fi movie.

The animated version features brothers Mario and Luigi (voiced by Chris Pratt and Charlie Day) struggling to establish their own plumbing business when by happenstance they find themselves sucked through a pipe into a fantasy realm of strange creatures where the laws of physics no longer apply. When Luigi is captured by Bowser (Jack Black), Mario teams with Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) to rescue him and prevent the king of the Koopas from dominating the magical realms.

Everything in the fantasy kingdoms works just like it does in the video games, with power-ups that give characters boosts in strength and speed that come from floating bricks with question marks on them. The film doesn’t dwell on why everything looks like it does from the video games because it’s easy enough to accept that the Mario Bros. have simply been sucked into Nintendo World.

From there, the film features a ton of references to various “Mario” properties over the years, from his 1981 debut in Donkey Kong to Mario Kart, more than enough to satisfy most fans of the games. For older fans, there’s a reference to the rap intro of the 1989 “Super Mario Bros. Super Show” starring Capt. Lou Albano, so what’s not to love? The score is even design to incorporate beloved musical themes from the “Super Mario” games, which only adds to the nostalgia factor.

And since the Mario Bros. have had a ubiquitous presence in pop culture for the past 40 years, being a hardcore fan of the games isn’t a requirement to enjoy what turns out to be an entertaining movie in general.

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The “Power Up Edition” Blu-ray includes a number of fun featurettes about the making of the film.

The 18-minute “Getting to Know the Cast” offers several vignettes profiling the voice actors and the roles they play. The 27-minute “Leveling Up: Making The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is a six-part look at the production, which was overseen by Nintendo to make sure it didn’t stray too far from its video game roots; included is a look at various Easter Eggs in the film, particularly to some of the non-“Mario” Nintendo games referenced.

The seven-minute “The Super Mario Bros. Movie Field Guide” features various cast members explaining elements from the game depicted in the film, while the three-minute “Leadership Lessons” has Anya Taylor-Joy describing five lessons that make Peach an effective princess for her people.

Rounding out the package is a sing-along music video of Jack Black singing Bowser’s song “Peaches.”

In the 4K combo pack, the full extras are included on both the 4K disc and the regular Blu-ray.

Apple TV+ Comedy Series ‘Platonic’ Debuting May 24

Apple TV+ will debut the 10-episode comedy series “Platonic,” starring and executive produced by Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen, with the first three episodes May 24, followed by new episodes weekly, every Wednesday.

Co-created, directed, and co-written by Nick Stoller and Francesca Delbanco, the half-hour comedy follows a platonic pair of former best friends approaching midlife (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) who reconnect after a long rift. The duo’s friendship becomes all consuming — and destabilizes their lives in a hilarious way. The ensemble cast also includes Luke Macfarlane, Tre Hale, Carla Gallo and Andrew Lopez. 

“Platonic” is produced by Sony Pictures Television, where Stoller and Stoller’s Global Solutions has an overall deal.

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The series marks the latest collaboration for Apple TV+ and Byrne, who also stars in the Apple Original series “Physical,” which is set to debut its third season later this year. Rogen is also set to star in an upcoming, untitled comedy series for Apple TV+ that he will write, direct and executive produce alongside Evan Goldberg.

The Fabelmans

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Drama;
Box Office $17.12 million;
$19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray, $34.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some strong language, thematic elements, brief violence and drug use.  
Stars Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Gabriel LaBelle, Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, Jeannie Berlin.

It can be argued that a surefire formula for a director making it into the Pantheon is a continued commitment to perpetual growth through experimentation, reenvisioning life as seen through a lens, and transforming even the most mundane studio assignment into a demanding journey to the heart of cinema. Rather than following in the footsteps of such prolific filmmakers as Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen, after a self-imposed 3-year hiatus Steven Spielberg returned to multiplexes with West Side Story, as unnecessary a remake as anything this side of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho. Next up, the second installment in the “I’ve Run Out of Things to Say” trilogy: the personal narrative, which, for many a green director, provides an ideal jumping off point. Once upon a time there was a colleague who assured me that no matter my level of dislike, there was at least one positive thing to be found in every picture. I promise you dear reader, that in the end, I will have found something praiseworthy to say of The Fabelmans.

George Lucas and Spielberg swapped intergalactic box office hits before teaming on Raiders of the Lost Ark, the structure of which had more climaxes than a James Deen compilation. It was Raiders that started me on the rocky path to Spielbergia. And so it went: the director, who has never revealed a pronounced allergy to fudging, couldn’t get E.T. to phone home, yet the little feller managed to pilot a full-grown boy, on a bicycle, past the moon for the film’s money shot. Then there’s the director as historian. Remember the 24-sheet ballyhooing Gone With the Wind on display in Empire of the Sun? Do you think Jean-Luc Godard or Martin Scorsese would have been careless enough to use 1968 reissue artwork in a film set in the 1940s? In Schindler’s List, or as a friend took to calling it, Oskar Schindler and the Temple of Doom, the only way Spielberg could get a character to stand out in a black-and-white film was through colorized attire. And given the film’s lumbering pace and “Hall of Presidents” anamorphic tableaus, if Abraham Lincoln was as dull as the biopic, could you really blame the South for seceding from the Union? The only Spielberg film I found myself returning to is 1941, and then more for A.D. Flowers’ special effects and cinematographer William Fraker’s sublime nightwork.

Meet The Fabelmans. Little Sammy Fabelman’s (Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord as a youth and Gabriel LaBelle in his teens) introduction to the movies arrives in the form of a cuddly meet-cute. The future Cecil B. De Mille stands trembling in line with mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and dad Burt (Paul Dano) to see the greatest showman on film’s Oscar-winning circus picture, The Greatest Show on Earth. Anticipatory anxiety rode high when Sammy confessed to being overcome with fear, terrified that sitting in a dark room filled with strangers could be too much for him. Brainiac Burt talks the tyke down by bringing him up to speed on the merits of visual perception and persistence of vision. Burt Fabelman is a decent man, an upright figure endowed with the kind of moral turpitude that would make Ward Cleaver look like Alex Murdaugh. Spielberg came up with the story decades ago but couldn’t bring himself to directing a film he feared might hurt his parents.

Spielberg used the first camera his folks bought him to trace De Mille’s spectacular trainwreck. This was soon followed by Escape to Nowhere, a 40-minute war film he directed at age 13 with a cast composed of high school cronies. He completed the film in 1959, three years before the release of How the West Was Won, yet a piece of Alfred Newman’s score is heard as background accompaniment. As a historian, Spielberg was a terrific popcorn salesman.

Burt is by all accounts a genial genius who adored his work almost as much as he did his family. In the mid-fifties, Burt becomes a valued member of General Electric’s computer department. The work called for considerable relocation; it was his job that gradually brings the Fabelmans to California. Mitzi is a concert pianist who grows cold living life in her husband’s shadow. Mitzi eventually takes up with Burt’s best friend Bennie Lowey (Seth Rogan). When the Fabelmans divorce in 1965, Sammy goes to live with his father. Mitzi and Bennie eventually wed, but one can’t help but think Sammy had a hand in the breakup going public. There’s something uber creepy about Sammy and Mitzi’s relationship. Spielberg told 60 Minutes that Leah Spielberg was like an older sister. Even though mom was the one caught cheating, Spielberg blamed his father for the break-up. “I kind of put her up on a pedestal,” Spielberg continued. “And my dad was much more terrestrial, much more grounded, much more salt of the earth. And for some reason, it was easier for me to blame him than it was to someone who I had already exalted.”

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While on a family camping trip, Mitzi, who has a few too many, dances seductively, her see-through negligee back-lit by a car’s headlights. Rather than aborting the shot, a turned-on Sammy keeps the camera rolling. This isn’t the only time his lens spied something it shouldn’t have. The next day, he surreptitiously captures footage of the cuckolders openly cavorting in deep focus behind his father and sisters. Acting as though nothing happened, it isn’t until the footage comes back from the lab that Sammy is overcome with shock. How could he not have noticed the kiss while filming? Hell, he panned up to it! It was Kurt Vonnegut who once said, “Nothing’s real to some people unless they’ve got photographs.” In Sammy’s case, truth comes to light only when projected. He ultimately blames himself for filming it in the first place.

Scenes of anti-semtism are as clumsily addressed as they are inevitable. The first confrontation takes place after a high school volleyball match. The dialogue and situations are such, one keeps waiting for Beaver Cleaver to enter and say, “Gee, Wally. Eddie Haskell called us ‘kikes.’” Once again, Sammy blames Burt; the family never might have crossed paths with anti-semites had his father not moved the family from Arizona. A subsequent relationship with Monica Sherwood (Chloe East), a sugary, hot-to-trot gentile classmate looking to make it with a handsome Jewish boy (just like Jesus) has nothing on Screech and Lisa Turtle.

Jeannie Berlin and Judd Hirsh pop up in a couple of memorable cameos, but the film’s biggest laugh arrives when Sammy’s sister asks when he’s going to make a film with girls. Judging by Spielberg’s track record, the answer is never. And as advertised, here’s the positive note I promised to close on. It can be summed up in five words: David Lynch as John Ford.

Bonus features include a trio of fawning behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022)

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Comedy;
Rated ‘PG’ for mild action and rude/suggestive humor.
Stars Andy Samberg, John Mulaney, KiKi Layne, Will Arnett, Eric Bana, Flula Borg, Dennis Haysbert, Keegan-Michael Key, Tress MacNeille, Tim Robinson, Seth Rogen, J.K. Simmons, Da’Vone McDonald, Rachel Bloom.

The new Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers isn’t so much a reboot of the 1989-90 cartoon show of the same name as it is a hilarious spoof of the entire animation industry.

A staple of the Disney Afternoon animation block of the late 1980s and early 1990s, “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” repurposed Disney’s mischievous chipmunk duo Chip and Dale as heads of a detective agency that took on animal-based crimes. The pair had been created in 1943 and were featured in 23 animated shorts through 1956, mostly as annoyances to more-prominent Disney characters such as Donald Duck or Pluto.

Produced by the Lonely Island comedy troupe, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers reimagines Chip and Dale as actors who once starred in the “Rescue Rangers” TV show in a Who Framed Roger Rabbit-type world where Toons exist in the live-action world (as do Muppets, puppets and Claymation characters).

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Best friends from high school in the 1980s, the pair have gone their separate ways in the 30 years since the show ended. Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) has become an insurance salesman, while Dale (Andy Samberg) is an internet celebrity cashing in on his fleeting fame by touring fan conventions alongside other washed up cartoon characters (including a rather pointed slam of the botched marketing of a recent movie from another studio). Dale’s also undergone a procedure to give him a CGI upgrade — this world’s equivalent to plastic surgery — while Chip remains his traditional 2D appearance.

The pair are reunited by the pleas of their desperate “Rescue Rangers” co-star Monterey Jack, whose cheese addiction has put him in debt with some unsavory characters. When Monterey disappears, Chip and Dale join forces with a local cop (KiKi Layne) to free him from Sweet Pete (Will Arnett), a disgruntled former child star with a reputation for re-animating Toons in order to force them to star in cheap DVD bootleg ripoffs of their own movies. The premise gives director Akiva Schaffer and screenwriters Dan Gregor and Doug Mand plenty of ammunition to skewer the tropes of animated movies and reboots.

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The film avoids cameos from any of Disney’s major characters, but, like Roger Rabbit, serves up a ton of casual appearances from well-known minor characters, many of which feature in other studios’ properties. The fun blast of nostalgia will instantly appeal to anyone who grew up in the Disney Afternoon era, but also aren’t a distraction from the main story, which mixes in enough generic archetypal characters so that audiences of any age can appreciate the film without needing to understand any additional history of animation.

DOJ Indicts North Korean Military Hackers for 2014 Cyber Attack on Sony Pictures, AMC Theatres

The Department of Justice Feb. 17 unsealed a federal indictment charging three North Korean computer programmers with participating in a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy to conduct a series of destructive cyberattacks, to steal and extort more than $1.3 billion from financial institutions and companies, including Sony Pictures and AMC Theatres.

The indictment alleges a broad array of criminal cyber activities undertaken by the conspiracy, in the United States and abroad, for revenge or financial gain. The schemes included a destructive cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in November 2014 in retaliation for The Interview, a movie comedy that depicted a fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The attack resulted in the release of confidential emails and sensitive information from the studio, executives and other employees, leading to the departure of co-chairman Amy Pascal.

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The hackers also targeted AMC Theatres, which was scheduled to screen the movie in December; and a 2015 intrusion into Mammoth Screen, which was producing a fictional TV series involving a British nuclear scientist taken prisoner in DPRK.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un

Named in the indictment, filed Dec. 8, 2020, in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Jon Chang Hyok, 31; Kim Il, 27; and Park Jin Hyok, 36 — all alleged members of units of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB), a military intelligence agency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which engaged in criminal in a single conspiracy to cause damage, steal data and money, and otherwise further the strategic and financial interests of the DPRK government and its leader, Kim Jong Un.

The North Korean military hacking units are known by multiple names in the cybersecurity community, including Lazarus Group and Advanced Persistent Threat 38, according to the DOJ. Park was previously charged in a criminal complaint unsealed in September 2018.

“As laid out in today’s indictment, North Korea’s operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world’s leading bank robbers,”  Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in a statement. “The Department will continue to confront malicious nation state cyber activity with our unique tools and work with our fellow agencies and the family of norms abiding nations to do the same.”

The indictment expands upon the FBI’s 2018 charges for the cyberattacks conducted by the North Korea to extract revenge and obtain money to prop up its regime.

“The ongoing targeting, compromise, and cyber-enabled theft by North Korea from global victims was met with the outstanding, persistent investigative efforts of the FBI in close collaboration with U.S. and foreign partners,” said FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate. “By arresting facilitators, seizing funds, and charging those responsible for the hacking conspiracy, the FBI continues to impose consequences and hold North Korea accountable for its/their criminal cyber activity.”

Rose Byrne, Seth Rogen to Star in Comedy Series for Apple TV+

Apple TV+ will launch a new comedy series, “Platonic,” starring Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen.

The series will be co-written by Nick Stoller and Francesca Delbanco (“Friends From College”) and will be produced for Apple by Sony Pictures Television.

“Platonic” reunites Byrne and Rogen with director Nick Stoller following their collaboration on the “Neighbors” films.

The 10-episode, half-hour comedy explores the inner workings of platonic friendship. A pair of former best friends who met in their youth (played by Byrne and Rogen) reconnect as adults and try to mend the rift that led to their falling out. As their friendship becomes more consuming, it destabilizes their lives and causes them to reevaluate their choices.

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In addition to writing, Stoller will direct. Rose Byrne, Seth Rogen and Conor Welch will serve as executive producers.

Apple TV+ is available at $4.99 a month with a seven-day free trial.

An American Pickle

STREAMING REVIEW:

HBO Max;
Comedy;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some language and rude humor.
Stars Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Jorma Taccone.

Seth Rogen gives a spirited performance in the dual role of a European immigrant and his great-grandson who find themselves co-existing through a bizarre matter of happenstance.

As Herschel Greenbaum, Rogen plays a man looking for a better life with his wife (Sarah Snook) in 1919 by moving to America to raise a prosperous family. However, the only job he can get is smashing rats at a pickle factory in Brooklyn. Due to an accident, he becomes trapped in a vat of pickle brine, just as the factory is permanently shut down due to health code violations.

A century later, some kids stumble across the condemned remains of the building and inadvertently free Herschel, who has been perfectly preserved in the brine thanks to a scientific explanation that only the characters in the film are privy to.

In 2019, Herschel learns his only living descendant is a great-grandson, Ben, who is the same age as he is (all things considered). The idea of seeing how two members of the same family from different eras would get along is something of an inverse of the situation from Back to the Future, when it was the son going back in time to meet his father, rather than the ancestor being thrust into the future.

However, Herschel’s excitement about learning of the wonders of the modern age soon turns to disappointment, as he accuses Ben of disrespecting the family’s legacy.

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Ben, a software engineer, has big plans for a new app he’s designing that can rate the ethical worthiness of a product. But Herschel would rather turn his efforts toward cleaning up the local cemetery where his wife is buried, and removing a billboard for vodka that hangs over their graves. When their disagreement reaches an impasse, Herschel sets off to build a new pickle empire in America.

The movie offers some good jokes about the contrast between the hardships of life 100 years ago compared with the amenities of today that even the impoverished take for granted. And Herschel’s adventures in building up a 21st century company provide a nice microcosm of the business landscape of America and the entrepreneurial spirit. His insistence on viewing the modern world though his 19th century context is amusing in a “the more things change, the more they stay the same” kind of way.

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On the whole, though, An American Pickle is a rather low-key affair, limited in scope and uncomplicated in its execution. This is first and foremost a showcase for Rogen, and the degree to which the film works at all owes to his ability to seamlessly play against himself.

HBO Max Orders Adult Animated Series With Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman

HBO Max has ordered the adult animated series “Santa Inc.” from Lionsgate, featuring voice performances by Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogen.

The eight-episode, half-hour series will be written by showrunner Alexandra Rushfield (Shrill) and will be produced by Rogen’s Point Grey Pictures as part of their multiplatform partnership with Lionsgate.

“Santa Inc.” is the story of Candy Smalls (Silverman), the highest-ranking female elf in the North Pole. When the successor to Santa Claus (Rogen) is poached by Amazon on Christmas Eve, Candy goes for her ultimate dream — to become the first woman Santa Claus in the history of Christmas.

“I have long dreamed of a taking a beloved holiday tradition and adding a feminist agenda and some ‘R’-rated comedy and when I read this script from Ali, with Seth and Sarah attached to voice, I knew that it was a perfect fit for us at Max.” Suzanna Makkos, EVP of original comedy and animation for HBO Max, said in a statement.

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“Sarah and Seth are the perfect comedy duo for this empowering and very funny animated series shepherded by the hysterical Alexandra Rushfield,” said Lionsgate head of scripted development Scott Herbst in a statement. “We look forward to diving into the world of animation with our Point Grey partners, and to bring the holidays to HBO Max in a totally unexpected and fresh way.”

HBO Max Acquires Seth Rogen Film ‘An American Pickle’ From Sony

HBO Max has acquired worldwide rights to the Seth Rogen starrer An American Pickle from Sony Pictures.

The film will be released under the upcoming platform’s Warner Max label. HBO Max acquired the film from Sony so that it would not be delayed due to COVID-19 theater closures and will now reach audiences this year via the new streaming platform, according to an HBO Max press release.

Starring Rogen in dual leading roles, An American Pickle is an adaptation of the 2013 New Yorker series “Sell Out” by Simon Rich. Rogen stars as Herschel Greenbaum, a struggling laborer who immigrates to America in 1920 with dreams of building a better life for his family. One day, while working at his factory job, he falls into a vat of pickles and is brined for 100 years. The brine preserves him perfectly and when he emerges in present day Brooklyn, he finds that he hasn’t aged a day. But when he seeks out his family, he is troubled to learn that his only surviving relative is his great grandson, Ben Greenbaum (also played by Rogen), a mild-mannered computer coder whom Herschel can’t even begin to understand.

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“I couldn’t be more thrilled to be partnering with HBO Max to release this film,” said Rogen in a statement. “We worked very hard and put as much of ourselves in this story as possible. We’re very proud of the end result and we can’t wait for people to get to see it”

“HBO Max is in the market for motion pictures that stand out. And An American Pickle does stand out — with Seth in this wonderfully original, funny, and heartfelt film that we look forward to debuting this summer,” said Kevin Reilly, chief content officer at HBO Max, and president of TNT, TBS and truTV.

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“I am a huge fan of the original New Yorker story ‘Sell Out’ and am in awe of how brilliantly Seth, Simon and Brandon translated it to film as only they could have,” added EVP of original films Jessie Henderson.