Four Rooms

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Via Vision;
Comedy;
Australian Import;
AUD$34.95 (≈$22.37 U.S.);
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive strong language, sexuality and some drug use.
Stars Tim Roth, Antonio Banderas, Valeria Golino, Madonna, Ione Skye, Lili Taylor, Alicia Witt, Sammi Davis, Amanda De Cadenet, Jennifer Beals, David Proval, Lana McKissack, Danny Verduzco, Tamlyn Tomita, Paul Calderon, Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Willis, Marisa Tomei Kathy Griffin, Marc Lawrence.

After encountering each other on the 1992 festival circuit, four up-and-coming indie filmmakers hit upon an idea for a collaboration. Each would write and direct a segment of an anthology film tied together by the framing device of a hotel bellhop dealing with eccentric guests on a wild New Year’s Eve.

Those directors were Allison Anders (Gas Food Lodging), Alexandre Rockwell (In the Soup), Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi) and Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), and resulting film was 1995’s Four Rooms.

While each could have conceivably written anything for their vignette, they all tried their hands at comedy, which alleviated any potential tonal problems. Tim Roth was cast as Ted the bellhop to serve as the one constant running through each sketch. Ultimately, however, the clash in filmmaking styles did not make for a smooth cinematic experience, resulting in Roth’s oddball performance being somewhat off-putting, and the film was not generally well received by critics or audiences at the time.

The first segment, by Anders, focuses on a coven of witches (Valeria Golino, Madonna, Ione Skye, Lili Taylor, Alicia Witt, Sammi Davis) trying to resurrect their idol, leading one of them to seduce Ted to gain the final ingredient needed to complete their spell.

The second, by Rockwell, finds Ted stumbling into the room of a crazy man (David Proval) with a gun who accuses Ted of being the man with whom his wife (Jennifer Beals) is having an affair.

In the third, by Rodriguez, a couple (Antonio Banderas and Tamlyn Tomita) head out for a New Year’s party, leaving their young children in Ted’s care to disastrous results.

The fourth, by Tarantino, finds Ted roped into a bet between a Hollywood director (played by Tarantino himself) and one of his pals (Paul Calderon). This is essentially an adaptation of the “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episode Man From the South, which itself is based on the Roald Dahl short story of the same name. With its grounding in a hyper-specific pop culture reference and its free-flowing dialogue, this is raw, unfiltered Tarantino.

In addition to various interstitials that find Ted called to each room, there’s also what is essentially a fifth segment (taking place between rooms three and four) in which Ted tries calling his boss (Kathy Griffin) to complain about the guests, only to have a strange conversation with her roommate (Marisa Tomei).

Unsurprisingly, the effectiveness of the segments more or less corresponds with the career trajectory of whomever made it.

Anders devoting her segment to a supernatural theme doesn’t get the film started off on the strongest note. Ironically enough, it’s the lone female director of the group who resorts to gratuitous nudity, with several of the witches performing the spell topless. That at least gives it an edge over Rockwell’s segment, which is the least memorable.

The film is probably best known for the contributions by Rodriguez and Tarantino, who have gone on to have much more visible careers in the 28 years since. And since Roth was pretty much Tarantino’s go-to guy at the time (having featured roles in both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction), the film is generally more associated with them than the other two. The pair would even collaborate again the next year on From Dusk till Dawn and in 2007 on Grindhouse (apart from various other cameos in each other’s films).

In contrast, Anders would go on to become mostly a television director, while Rockwell (Beals’ husband at the time) made a few more obscure indie films before going into teaching at NYU’s film school.

Among some other tidbits: The film’s producer, Lawrence Bender, appears as a partygoer in between the first and second segments; Bruce Willis, who appears in Tarantino’s segment as a favor to the director, went uncredited due to allegedly violating SAG rules by taking no payment for the role; and the bikini-clad dancer seen from the neck down on the TV in Rodriguez’s segment is none other than Salma Hayek, who would basically perform a similar role (but with her face visible) in From Dusk till Dawn.

The film’s home video history as far as the U.S. is concerned has been mostly confined to VHS and a handful of DVD releases over the years, making it Tarantino’s only film not yet on Blu-ray aside from a handful of region-locked European releases (even the “CSI” episode he directed is on Blu-ray). This region-free edition from Australian distributor Via Vision should allow many a Tarantino and Rodriguez collector to fill in that HD content hole.

The transfer looks great, pretty much exactly what one would expect a 1990s film from four different indie directors using different cinematographers and editors to look like. The main title animated sequence looks a bit soft but that likely owes more to compositing techniques at the time than any fault of the transfer.

The Blu-ray includes the film’s trailer, which contains snippets of footage that was apparently cut from the final version. There are also two vintage featurettes: a six-minute making-of, and a 21-minute deeper dive into the individual directors.

Star Trek: Picard — Season One

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 10/6/20;
Paramount/CBS;
Sci-Fi;
$39.99 DVD, $47.99 Blu-ray;
Not Rated;
Stars Patrick Stewart, Alison Pill, Isa Briones, Evan Evagora, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera, Harry Treadway, Peyton List, Tamlyn Tomita, Jonathan Del Arco, Jeri Ryan, Brent Spiner.

Fans of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” eagerly anticipated this sequel series featuring Patrick Stewart’s return to the role of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard nearly two decades after the last time we saw him in action.

That would have been the disappointing 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis, which ended with the android Data (Brent Spiner) sacrificing himself to save Picard from a deadly superweapon.

The new series picks up 20 years later, in the year 2399, with Picard settling into retirement at age 94 running his family’s winery in France. However, he remains haunted by Data’s death, as well as the Federation’s abandonment of a mission to ferry Romulan refugees to safety when their planet’s home star exploded 10 years prior (an event alluded to in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 movie).

His ennui is interrupted by a request for help from a young girl (Isa Briones) who turns out to be an android made of flesh and blood, fashioned by remnants of Data’s old programming. She’s being hunted by Romulan agents who consider her the portent of an invasion of artificial life forms that will lead to a galactic apocalypse.

For answers, Picard must find the girl’s twin sister, who happens to be working with a task force studying a ship abandoned by the Federation’s deadly enemy, the Borg, in Romulan space. So he assembles a crew of mercenaries to take him there.

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The creators of the show stress that this is very much not a retread of “TNG.” But that doesn’t rule out the occasional reunion here and there. The best episode of the first season’s batch of 10, for instance, involves Picard seeking temporary sanctuary with his old crewmates Riker and Troi (Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis), who now live on a distant planet with their daughter (Lulu Wilson).

In fact, the show is filled with references to the “TNG” era of “Star Trek” in the 1990s, and the Borg subplot provides a nice excuse to bring in Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), the former Borg from “Star Trek: Voyager.”

Less fortunate are characters who were just guest stars on previous “Trek” shows, as this new series has a nasty habit of having them gruesomely murdered to move the story along.

In addition to the gore, longtime fans might also be surprised by the frequent use of foul language, with Starfleet admirals dropping “F” bombs to a degree never seen on a “Star Trek” show. Remember when “Star Trek” was a family show?

The A.I. storyline ends up going off the rails by the end of the season, which turns out to be a convoluted excuse for eliminating a hanging plot point from “TNG” that didn’t even need to be addressed.

The kinds of fans that “Star Trek” usually attracts will likely fine the show ends up inadvertently raising two questions for every one it thinks it’s answering. The nostalgia is fun for a while, but a few clever references will hardly compensate for other aspects of the franchise the show glaringly ignores. (For specific deviations from established Trek lore, check out the Major Grin YouTube channel.)

The show isn’t covering much new ground in its treatment of androids and A.I., as many of the ideas relating to the nature of artificial existence were previously and better explored in Blade Runner and “Battlestar Galactica.”

In fact, given how the season ends, it almost feels as if the producers were trying to set up a “Star Trek” version of “Firefly.”

Still, the cast is great, and the season manages to squeeze some poignant moments from the legacy characters that fans won’t want to miss.

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The Blu-ray edition of the series offers a nice suite of extras to differentiate it from its streaming presentation on CBS All Access.

Every episode includes a brief behind-the-scenes featurette that runs three to seven minutes. A few episodes also include deleted scenes, though most of these are pretty inconsequential.

The first of three discs includes the “Children of Mars” short that serves as something of a prologue to the series. The disc also includes a 10-minute “Make It So” featurette about the creation of the show.

In addition, the first episode includes a quarantine-recorded picture-in-picture Zoom commentary with producers Alex Kurtzman, Akiva Goldsman, Michael Chabon, Kirsten Beyer and Hanelle M. Culpepper (who also directed the episode).

The third disc includes more making-of featurettes, including the 12-and-a-half-minute “Aliens Alive: The xBs,” about putting the actors into Borg makeup, with a particular focus on Jeri Ryan’s return to her famous role.

“Picard Props” is a 13-minute featurette about the creation of various knick-knacks and weapons used on the show.

“Set Me Up” is a 14-and-a-half-minute featurette about the production design of some of the starship interiors and Picard’s home, showing off a lot of great details.

“The Motley Crew” is a 19-minute featurette about the cast, including some of Briones’ audition footage.

Finally, there’s an eight-minute gag reel, which is pretty great if only for the amount of playful bickering we get to see between longtime friends Stewart and Frakes, who directed a number of the episodes.