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Amusing and action-packed; the message starts feeling heavy-handed
Disney's "Zootopia" is an amusing and action-packed addition to their long history of animated classics. However, at times, the message of the movie does start feeling heavy-handed. We got it the first three or five times: you can do or be anything you want as long as you believe in yourself and go for it. There's also nothing quite like a wholesome half-dressed pop star telling our children to "Try EVERYTHING", right? Aside from those two gripes, a great vocal cast and well-placed humor bring everything together quite nicely.
"Zootopia" is rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action. Judy Hopps is bullied by her classmates, which might disturb younger viewers or ones who are victims of that sort of abuse. Christians will be offended by the use of God's name in vain in a couple of scenes as well. Judy and Nick visit a nudist colony where animals don't wear clothing. The sequence might stir up some questions about what exactly a nudist colony is.
Kiss Rocks Vegas (2016)
"KISS Rocks Vegas" is the quintessential KISS
When four Liverpool lads stood onstage playing music and wagging their hair around in the early 1960s, it was easy to please a crowd. Rock 'n Roll was young and new. Fast forward a decade to the 1970s, and you had to do a bit more to thrill an audience. One band stood out above all others and continues to: KISS.
Whether you loved them or hated them when they hit the scene in 1973, KISS made an undeniable impression on anyone and everyone they came across. They were charisma. They were spectacle. They were energy. They were explosive. They were loud. They were bombastic. KISS WAS Rock 'n Roll!
Almost every word I used above to describe the "Hottest Band in the Land" could and is used when people think about Las Vegas shows today. When you think of what many consider the most entertaining and bright spot of entertainment in the United States, words like charisma, spectacle, energy, explosive, loud, and bombastic all come to mind I'm sure. What better home for KISS than this place?
Many die-hard fans of KISS will immediately throw up a wall of defense after reading my previous statement. "MY KISS is a rock 'n roll powerhouse too good to become just another staple of Las Vegas," they'll exclaim. Just like KISS deserved to be put in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame for so many decades of hard work, they deserve a second home to hang their hats and call their own. A place where people come to them on their own turf to have their faces melted off instead of vice versa.
November of 2014 saw KISS take up residence at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. For nine eruptive nights, the group unleashed their powers and legendary songs on the masses who attended these special performances. Bringing with them all the show-stopping vivacity they've become known for, KISS left the venue in a shambles of explosions, smoke, confetti, and blood.
"KISS Rocks Vegas" is the quintessential KISS. It shows the band at the top of their game in every way. Both Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons unleash their vocals and tight musical fury to perfection on every tune. Guitarist Tommy Thayer shreds his instrument's strings for squealing leads that on multiple times conclude in a flash of sparkles and loud cracks in the sky. Drummer Eric Singer doesn't miss a beat as he pounds away on his multi-colored drums lit and strobing throughout the concert.
Every single wonderful trope of a KISS performance is included in "KISS Rocks Vegas", and they should be. Here is a band delivering the goods to many times folks from all walks of life. They've never seen them before in a live setting. Just as they always do, KISS puts their best foot forward and strives to win over newcomers and make new fans. That's how a rock group becomes immortal.
Starchild Paul flies out into the crowd and performs while strutting down a catwalk suspended above audience members. Demon Gene spits blood and fire before ascending to his pedestal high above and proclaim himself the "God of Thunder". Spaceman Tommy fires rockets and lights up the darkness of the arena. Catman Eric blasts away at his drum kit as it rises off the stage to reveal giant banners featuring ferocious felines looking like they're going to jump into the crowd and devour it.
"KISS Rocks Vegas" was a great balance of songs featuring both Paul and Gene on lead vocals. I was actually surprised at how many of Simmons' signature songs appeared on the set list. "God of Thunder", "War Machine", and "I Love It Loud" were all there. The only one absent that I would've liked to hear was "Unholy." Stanley brought the glitz and glamour to numbers like "Love Gun", "Do You Love Me?", and "Creatures of the Night". Singer even had the opportunity to shine through a soulful performance of "Black Diamond". I did miss getting to see Thayer belt out one of his excellent tracks off of KISS's latest albums "Monster" and "Sonic Boom".
The cinematography for "KISS Rocks Vegas" put the viewer in several different locations during the extent of the show. At times, you would be standing in the middle of the crowd where you could see the whole stage. Other times you'd be standing at the feet of the group front row. We also got to fly high above the crowd and the band thanks to some fabulous crane-shots. There wasn't a bad seat in the Hard Rock Hotel.
I took my nine-year-old son with me and was hoping that "KISS Rocks Vegas" would be appropriate for him. In other DVD releases of the band's concerts, we see girls pulling up their shirts and Gene and Paul's famous rock 'n roll "poses." While there are a couple of those here for the sake of keeping it real, all the girls keep their clothes on and the show is family-friendly.
"KISS Rocks Vegas" is a glimpse of things to come. I can see KISS taking up residency for a much longer time than nine days. I can see them becoming a permanent staple of the Town That Never Sleeps. I can see them building the ultimate tribute band and their presence being forever an essential part of the Las Vegas Experience long after the actual members are gone
but not forgotten.
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" still ranks as my favorite sequel to the original
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" holds a special place in my heart as a horror fan. As a teen, I would go to my father's during the summer. I used this time visit him and the rest of my family in the area. During my downtime, I would catch up on movies I wasn't allowed to watch living with my mother. Many of the these were, of course, in the horror genre.
One of my favorite memories was watching a double feature one night with my father in the summer of 1987. We went to the local video store and rented "Psycho 2" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2." A funny side-note is that I had never seen either one of the original films. "Chainsaw 2" had a profound impact on me, as it was the first truly graphic and gory movie I had seen. It also had a far sicker sense of humor than what I had witnessed in other horror / comedies like "Fright Night" and the likes.
Revisiting "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" in its new 2K digital transfer was an interesting experience. The movie still holds up over all these years. There's nothing quite like seeing Dennis Hopper battle Leatherface in an epic chainsaw duel. Imagine Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader brandishing chainsaws instead of lightsabers and you get the idea.
Caroline Williams' screams rival those of Fay Wray's in "King Kong." I can't think of any way she could have improved her performance, from her Texan accent to the epic Chainsaw dance at the end of the movie. She is quite the trooper and deserves all the credit she gets as a scream queen being covered in bloody goo and dirt for much of the film.
Dennis Hopper comes alive as a police officer looking to avenge the deaths of his family and end the chainsaw massacre once and for all. He quotes the Bible and sings church hymns while destroying the lair of Leatherface and company, adding to the dark zaniness of the movie. He plays the role relatively straight where many other actors would have hammed it up.
I was very surprised upon re-watching "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" that there's no nudity. There's suggestive material throughout the movie. However, there's no actual sexual situations or topless women to be seen. That's a big surprise to anyone who grew up watching horror movies in the 1980s. I think there might be a pinup picture in the background of a couple shots. Granny Sawyer's decomposing dead body is shown sans clothing, but there's no detail in the body parts.
"The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" still ranks as my favorite sequel to the original. Its combination of tension and wild violence with over-the-top black humor still stands as the blueprint for most of the gore fests we get today from folks like Rob Zombie and countless others. Thanks to great practical effects, on-location shooting, and Tom Savini's masterful makeup and prosthetics, the film stands the test of time and is a great example of a well-executed sequel.
A great psychological thriller that sets itself apart from the mainstream jump-scare horror films
"The Witch" is one of the most bizarre and disturbing coming-of-age movies I've ever seen. It's definitely not "Sixteen Candles" or "Pretty in Pink." The characters in those films may have their share of problems, but they're nothing in comparison to the ones the family members in "The Witch" are dealing with!
In 1630 New England, panic and despair envelops a farmer (Ralph Ineson), his wife (Kate Dickie) and four of their children when youngest son Samuel suddenly vanishes. The family blames Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), the oldest daughter who was watching the boy at the time of his disappearance. With suspicion and paranoia mounting, twin siblings Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) suspect Thomasin of witchcraft, testing the clan's faith, loyalty and love to one another in "The Witch."
There are so many different viewpoints you can watch the movie from. Christians might see it as either blasphemous or cautionary. Satanists consider it be an encouragement for people to look outside the box of conventional religious beliefs. Others will see it as just a modern folk tale warning of unhealthy family dynamics and the dangers of isolationism and paranoia.
Is it a cautionary tale warning of the dangers of playing with the occult and Satanism? Does the movie encourage audiences to explore life outside the "confines" of Christian religions? Is it warning us to always question our beliefs and not just follow the herd? Honestly, it could be any of these.
As a Christian, I find the ambiguity in the message of "The Witch" to be slightly dangerous for those not grounded in their own faith. You're led to believe one thing through three-quarters of the film, even if the family members are extremely fanatic. Suddenly, the direction we're traveling in seems to switch gears.
"The Witch" is rated R for disturbing violent content and graphic nudity. Much of the nudity is shadowed, blurred, or an old lady. I'm not defending it, just further explaining. Some of it is of oldest daughter Anya Taylor-Joy. She is underage in the film, even though in real life she's now 20. None of it is meant to be sexual in any way.
"The Witch" is a great psychological thriller that sets itself apart from the mainstream jump-scare horror films we're getting right now. It's a thinking man's fright fest that leaves viewers pondering what it's all about. Great acting, authentic-looking sets and wardrobe, and real shooting locations make everything feel even more authentic.
Death Becomes Her (1992)
Stands the test of time when it comes to its dark humor and cautionary narrative
A star-studded cast headed up by Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn, and Meryl Streep all give elegantly wicked performances based on a story by Martin Donovan ("The Courtship of Eddie's Father") and David Koepp ("Jurassic Park," "Panic Room").
In "Death Becomes Her," two narcissistic arch rivals (Mery Streep and Goldie Hawn) discover the ultimate accessory a potion that will keep them forever young when they meet a mysterious enchantress (Isabella Rossellini) with deep ties to the Hollywood elite. But they get more than they bargained for when their newfound beauty only intensifies their vanity and rivalry.
Bruce Willis is absolutely perfect playing against his typecast at a time when he was known as a raging action hero ready to take out anyone who crosses him or his family. Here he's a whimpering mess being led around by two women who take advantage of and mentally and verbally abuse him. Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep are delightfully wicked as the two self-centered women who seek eternal life and servitude from Willis's character.
Director Robert Zemeckis captures the black comedy of "Death Becomes Her" and blends it with a shot of social commentary to give it more depth. Cinematographer Dean Cundey pulls us into the movie through his use of modern Gothic settings and wonderfully moody lighting. All his hard work truly gives the movie a noir feeling that somehow still works even in color.
If you look at the special visual effects through your 2016 glasses they appear dated. However, I remember seeing this movie when it came out 24 years ago and being visually dumbfounded by it. Industrial, Light, and Magic did an incredible job once again pushing the boundaries of their craft to a whole new level with "Death Becomes Her."
The movie is rated PG-13 for some nudity and off-color humor. The only nudity is a shot of Isabella Rossellini's body double from the back showing her rear. There are quite a few cleavage shots here and there as well. "Death Becomes Her" also has profanity, alcohol drinking, and comic violence.
"Death Becomes Her" is one of those films that stands the test of time when it comes to its dark humor and cautionary narrative. Sure, the primitive special visual effects stick out like a sore thumb at times when looking at it now. It's still a really enjoyable and entertaining film that explores the trappings of vanity, the dangers of chasing youth, and being afraid of growing old.
Another action-packed thrill ride
Warner Home Video and DC Comics unleash the fury in their latest direct-to-DVD offering "Justice League vs. Teen Titans." The all-new DC Universe Original Movie is brought to us by Director Sam Liu ("Batman: Year One," "All-Star Superman") from a script by Bryan Q. Miller ("The Flash," "Arrow") and Alan Burnett ("Batman: The Animated Series," "Batman Beyond"). It is based on an original idea instead of a comic book arc like most of the past animated films.
Frustrated and disillusioned about his work alongside the Justice League, Robin is forced into a new position with a younger super team, the Teen Titans. Readily welcomed aboard, he is immediately intrigued by the mysterious Raven and the unnatural force that looms over them - her father Trigon - a deceptive being powerful enough to destroy Metropolis by pitting the mighty Justice League against the Teen Titans. Loyalties are on the line and lives hang in the balance in "Justice League vs. Teen Titans."
"Justice League vs. Teen Titans" reminded me of what would happen if an old Satanic Panic flick like "Rosemary's Baby," "The Exorcist," or "The Masque of the Red Death" was blended together with a super hero movie. You have the mother who is deceived into giving herself over to a cult and spawning the daughter of Satan (or Trigon as they call him in the DC Universe). The offspring of the Unholy One fights her destiny and chooses to use her powers for good. The only difference between this and a classic horror film starring Vincent Price or Linda Blair is the inclusion of Robin the Boy Wonder, Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy, Blue Beetle, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.
Writers Bryan Q. Miller and Alan Burnett are no strangers to the DC world of super heroes. Burnett has helped create some of the most adored animated television shows and movies from the past three decades, while Miller has brought to life several different comic book characters through live-action series starting with "Smallville." Director Sam Liu knows how to pull it all together and give it a breakneck speed while not skimping on the story.
I applaud the filmmakers for trying to reach out to a teen crowd with their use of rock and dance pop numbers as the Titans try to blow off some adolescent steam at a carnival. They also do a decent job of creating some convincing chemistry between Robin and Raven, who feel like they're the outcasts of the supergroup. At the same time, older comic fans might feel as if they're watching an episode of "DeGrassi: The Next Generation" or "The O.C."
"Justice League vs. Teen Titans" is rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some suggestive images. Several demons get their heads chopped off and regrow them. Our heroes also go to Hell and battle some very disturbing creatures that get hacked up. It's definitely not for younger audiences.
Just be warned, parents. These are not the happy-go-lucky super heroes you know from "Teen Titans GO!" The group of youthful crimefighters we see here tend to use some profanity and are dark, angry, and grim. Their leader, Starfire, enjoys wearing extremely short skirts and shirts fashioned with what I call a boob window. I think she might use it as a distraction for her enemies while she battles with them. There's plenty of fun for older teens and adults to be had, but intense and disturbing scenes and other adult content keep this from being something the whole family can watch.
With a great voice cast including Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman, Jerry O'Connell as Superman, Jason O'Mara as Batman, and Jon Bernthal as Trigon, "Justice League vs. Teen Titans" is another action-packed thrill ride from DC Comics and Warner Home Video. Although the frantic pacing and short run-times of these animated movies sometimes feel a bit light on story buildup, they accomplish what they set out to. They're a comic book put in motion before our very eyes.
Village of the Damned (1995)
Feels like the iconic director was going through the motions
"Village of the Damned" doesn't have that John Carpenter quality we've come to expect from the director's more "personal" projects. The passion we see in his remake of "The Thing from Another World" is all but absent here. I don't get a sense of emotional attachment to the source material like I do for Howard Hawks' original 1951film. Maybe that's because I've read and seen interviews with Carpenter and his production partner where they admitted they were less than enthused to take on the movie and had ulterior motives.
Since "Village of the Damned" was made before the CGI craze hit Hollywood, we get a lot of practical and traditional special effects. Director Carpenter features not just one, but two burned and charred bodies for horror enthusiasts to enjoy. The visual effects of the children's eyes are also a treat to look upon.
John Carpenter shares the responsibility of the musical score for "Village of the Damned" with The Kinks' singer, songwriter and guitarist Dave Davies. The combination of these two talents makes for an eclectic soundtrack. Let's just say it's not quite as menacing as what we've come to expect when sitting down to watch Carpenter's productions.
John Carpenter's "Village of the Damned" isn't necessarily a bad movie. It just feels like the iconic director was going through the motions. Almost like he really didn't have any personal stakes in creating something that would stand the test of time like his own "Halloween" or "The Fog." The acting isn't really bad and there are some chilling moments, but I couldn't shake the idea that I was being walked through an updated Reader's Digest condensed version of the original 1960 British film.
Cherry Falls (2000)
One of the more adept entries in the slasher genre
Just about everything in "Cherry Falls" is somehow clever and quick- witted. First of all, just take a minute to ponder the name of the town. The concept of a killer taking out virgins instead of disreputable teens is also something the movie has going for it. Another asset is a well thought out script by writer Ken Selden with a surprise reveal that hearkens back to the suspenseful who-dun-its like "Prom Night," "My Bloody Valentine," and even the later "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer."
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying "Cherry Falls" is perfect by any means. There are plenty of stale performances and overacting from a largely young cast. Honestly, that's my only complaint about the movie.
"Cherry Falls" is rated R for strong violence / gore, teen sexuality, language and some drug content. There's plenty of talk about sex, but no nudity. If you saw the movie when it premiered as the most expensive TV-movie on the USA Network, I'm sure most of the language and graphic violence was nowhere to be found. The version we get here is the home video cut, which features folks getting axed in the head and being impaled. Most of the killing is performed offscreen, however, in the fine fashion of "Psycho" and other early thrillers.
"Cherry Falls" is one of the more adept entries in the slasher genre. Much of this is owed to the combination of a sincere performance from Brittany Murphy, an ingenious turnabout in plot, and the familiar use of a surprise ending. It's an enjoyable addition to a horror fan's home entertainment collection.
Disturbing Behavior (1998)
Manages to provide some great thrills and chills
Katie Holmes takes on the role of rebellious Goth teen Rachel Wagner in "Disturbing Behavior." She was doing her best at the time to break free of her good-girl typecast in "Dawson's Creek" where she played near-perfect Joey. What that means is she grimaces a lot and dresses up in half-shirts and rocker boots.
"Disturbing Behavior" has all the tropes you could ever want in a genre film from the late 1990s. You get over-the-top performances and bad acting mixed with hints of tell-tale talent. A melodramatic electronic soundtrack is mixed well with an alternative rock soundtrack and clothing styles that defined the decade.
The lesson to be found in "Disturbing Behavior" is that you must fight for your identity and individuality. Don't run with the crowd just to be accepted. There's a lot more social commentary here than what you would expect from a Hollywood teen flick.
The visual effect used to show the brainwashing really ages the movie as well. They're a sort of fractal imagery that would have looked advanced in a Pre-CGI world, but comes across as hokey today.
The movie is rated R for strong violence, sexuality, language, and drug content. There's nudity in a couple of parts and one definite scene suggesting something is going on out of frame. As usual, it's really all needless and might have been the reason the movie wasn't as successful as it could've been were it accessible to a PG-13 crowd.
"Disturbing Behavior" manages to provide some great thrills and chills. The best way to describe it is as a sort of teen slasher mixed with "The Stepford Wives" and "A Clockwork Orange." The ending seems rushed and comes with some cheesy one-line and a tacked - on finale that would lead you to believe they're might be a sequel in the works. Unfortunately, the movie didn't make enough money at the box office to merit such a thing.
Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! (2015)
Another strong entry in the annals of the great Dane's crime fighting career
Hanna-Barbera brings us the latest incarnation of the crime-solving canine and his partners in sleuthing with "Be Cool, Scooby-Doo" The cast is made up of regulars Frank Welker (Scooby-Doo and Fred Rogers), Matthew Lillard (Shaggy), and Grey Griffin (Daphne Blake) being joined by newcomer Kate Micucci ("Scrubs," "The Big Bang Theory") as Velma Dinkley.
The Scooby gang is back with a modern comedic twist on the beloved classic. With high school over and one last summer to live it up, the gang hits the road in the Mystery Machine, chasing fun and adventure in "Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!" But monsters and mayhem keep getting in the way.
I gave my nine-year-old son, Ephraim the chance to review the series. He shared his assessment with me after binge-watching his favorite episodes again.
"'Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!' is an exciting adventure with the gang in 13 new spooky episodes. My favorites are 'Trading Chases' with the spirit of Sobek, 'Mystery 101' starring the ghost of Kingsley, 'Screama Donna' with the ghost of Prima Donna, and 'Kitchen Frightmare' featuring the Yeti. What I like about this show is Shaggy and Scooby's hunger after eating the largest tower of food and Daphne's strange objects for each mystery. Hop into the van cause there's a mystery to solve!"
A completely different animation style than what we've seen before is utilized for "Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!" This really comes as no surprise, since they've been trying to play with the look of each show since "Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue!" The look takes a bit of getting used to, but works in the end.
"Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!" is another strong entry in the annals of the great Dane's crime fighting career. I still prefer the classic look of "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" And "What's New, Scooby-Doo?" However, the humor and tales told outweigh any issues I have with the way the characters and their surroundings appear.