Jason Bourne (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 124 min.). Nearly a decade after Matt Damon last played the former secret U.S. government operative on the run, he is back to play the character for a fourth time. While Damon looks in great shape, returning director/co-writer Paul Greengrass ("The Bourne Ultimatum," "The Bourne Supremacy") presents a film that is just too much of the same, even if the technology is a bit updated. A lot of the film is presented via surveillance footage, tracking characters walking around. Nonetheless, the film does have two highpoints in an early and a late chase sequence.
The story begins with Bourne (Damon) participating in bare-knuckle fights while laying low in Greece, of all places. We see two of his fights; the first is literally a one-punch knockout. However, former CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles, who played the character in the first three Bourne films, alongside Damon) brings Bourne some files she has stolen about Operation Treadstone, which Bourne was a part of, and the CIA's new Operation Ironhand. The files are passed after a well-staged motorcycle-car chase sequence through Athens streets that are crowded with protestors. CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones, who was better in "Mechanic Resurrection") has sicced another assassin (Vincent Cassel as the Asset, part of the Blackbriar program Bourne exposed in the last film; Cassel also appeared in "Ocean's Thirteen" with Damon) on both Bourne and Parsons. When Bourne finally gets the files decrypted in Berlin, he discovers more information about his father.
There also is a stop in London, before the finale, set at the Aria Casino in Las Vegas, during the Exocon, technical convention, which Dewey is attending. Dewey has a secondary problem to Bourne in Deep Dream CEO Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), who has had CIA funding but now is balking at supplying the CIA a backdoor into Deep Dream's new anonymous Web platform. Alicia Vikander (the new "Tomb Raider," "Ex Machina") plays CIA analyst Heather Lee, who is ambitious and thinks she can bring Bourne back in as an asset; however, her loyalties and motivations seem all over the place.
The real reason to see the film is the final showdown between Bourne and the Asset, which begins in the Aria Casino and spills out onto the Las Vegas strip, with the Asset commandeering a five-ton SWAT truck and crashing through elements of stalled traffic, literally sending cars flying through the air, before crashing into the Riviera Hotel (in real life, the hotel was slated for demolition). The film turns full circle with a bare-knuckle fight between Bourne and the Asset beneath the hotel. In the extras, we learn that the chase sequence on the Las Vegas strip was the first ever filmed there and involved closing about a half-mile of the roadway. The sequence used 150 extras with cars and 50 stunt people with cars. The Riviera sequence involved 250 extras and 60 stunt people.
The extra about the Las Vegas showdown (14:56) is in two parts. Another extra (5:37) is devoted to the Athens escape. There also is a three-part look (18:13) at the three fights Bourne has in the film, plus an overview about "Bringing Back Bourne" (8:15). Each extra is introduced by Damon, who also served as a producer on the film. Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 2.75 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
The Hollars (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 88 min.). This family-based film, the second directed by lead actor John Krasinski (TV's "The Office"), features a wonderful, emotion-evoking performance by Margo Martindale (Emmy winner for "Justified" and "The Americans") as the matriarch of the Hollar clan. The topnotch cast includes Krasinski as John Hollar, Richard Jenkins and Martindale as his parents, Don and Sally, and Sharlto Copley as his older brother, Ron. John is about to have a child with his girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick), whom he leaves back in New York City, when he receives news his mother has collapsed and is in the hospital.
Once John, who considers himself a failure as a graphic artist, arrives back in his hometown, he learns his mother has a brain tumor, his father's plumbing and heating business is about to go bankrupt, and his brother has divorced the wife of his two daughters. The ex-wife is now seeing Rev. Dan (musician Josh Groban), a youth pastor, and Ron is basically stalking his ex-wife and daughters, including a stop when transporting just-arrived John to the family home. Additionally, Sally's nurse is Jason (Charlie Day), someone John used to have trouble with back in high school and who married John's high school girlfriend, Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Also, it turns out that Gwen is still interested in John. The film has lots of humor, a feeling of realness to the characters and lots of emotion towards the end. The script is by Jim Strouse.
Bonus features include audio commentary by Krasinski and Martindale; a making-of featurette (17:44; yes, a bald cap was used for the haircutting scene; Krasinski's first acting job was in a commercial with Martindale); Martindale discussing her life and career (6:03); and a Q&A with Krasinski, Martindale and Kendrick at the LA Film Festival (18:54; the first 8 minutes are all Krasinski). Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 3 stars
The Secret Life of Pets (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 87 min.). We all have probably wondered what our pets do all day while we are at work. Well, now that I am retired, I can tell you my two cats just sleep most of the day. However, this animated film from Illumination Entertainment (the people who brought us the "Despicable Me" franchise) gives pets a rich social life. The film, though, quickly sends the main pets on an adventure, leaving most of the "secret life" behind, except for one wild party scene. I did like the Dachshund using the mixer for massage, though.
The adventure story is decent enough, but nothing special. The same goes for most of the characters, with the exception of a probably mad bunny, Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart in an aggressively loud manner as a bit of a revolutionary). The main dog is Max (Louis C.K.), a terrier, who belongs to Katie (Ellie Kemper). One day, though, Katie brings home a new "brother," Duke (Eric Stonestreet), who is very large and boisterous. Gidget (Jenny Slate) is the fluffy white dog in the next building who has a crush on Max, and it is she who organizes the search and rescue effort when Max goes missing. A reluctant helper to Gidget is a hawk, Tiberious (Albert Brooks).
One day in the park, Duke tries to get Max in trouble, but the result is that both are picked up by animal control officers. They escape, but in an unfamiliar part of New York City. Their escape is just secondary to Snowball's busting out Ripper from the van. Snowball brings them to the Home of Flushed Pets in the sewer, but they balk when initiation includes a cobra bite. Escaping from Snowball, the pair end up on a boat that takes them to Brooklyn. This results in the film's other fun scene, when Max and Duke break into a sausage factory. In addition to all they can eat, they end up in a big production number from "Grease." However, now Max and Duke are being sought by both Snowball's crew and Gidget's rescue squad.
The primary bonus features are three mini-films. They are: "Norman TV" (4:01), a great bit about a gerbil that lives in the heating system and spies on different apartments as if watching TV, and gets to thwart a murder; "Weenie" (4:05), a musical number to reassure Timmy sausage that "we're all weenies"; and "Mower Minions" (4:27), in which a crew of Minions raise havoc when doing lawn care to raise cash for a blender. All three are fun. Exclusive to Blu-ray are a piece on making an animated film (4:13) and an anatomy of a scene (4:46), which goes into more depth. Both versions have other, fluffier short featurettes, including looking at five of the film's creators from Illumination (8:43), the voice actors (3:47), looks at real pets and animals (6:26) and a pet groomer (3:41), Snowball's best lines (1:15), a lyric video of "Lovely Day" and a "Hot Dog" sing-along. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.75 stars
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (20th Century Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 90 min.). From 1992 to 1996 and then from 2001 to 2004, the heavy-drinking, drug-using duo of Eddy Monsoon (writer Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) ruled the BBC in the comedy series, "Absolutely Fabulous" or "Ab Fab" as it came to be known. Eddy is a PR agent who spends her time chasing bizarre fashion fads in an attempt to stay young and hip, while Patsy is a fashion magazine editor who is her best friend and enabler. Three special episodes followed in 2011 and 2012. The show was based on a comedy sketch on "French & Saunders" in 1990 (Dawn French being the co-creator).
In the new film, it is London Fashion Week and our two "heroines" are as self-unaware as ever as they stumble through fashion shows and parties. (Amusingly, Eddy thinks Ebola is a country in Africa.) Eddy has a book deal but her helpless assistant (Jane Horrocks as Bubbles, from the TV series) has turned all her notes into pages of "blah blah blah"; plus her publisher is not impressed that Eddy's only true client is singer Lulu (she plays herself). Eddy's rich, ancient ex-husband (Christopher Ryan as Marshall) is no longer going to pay for the home where Eddy lives with her daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha from the TV series) and granddaughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness), 13, because he wants to get a sex-change operation.
When Patsy learns that supermodel Kate Moss (herself) is changing her PR, she and Eddy storm into the party Moss is attending. However, Eddy accidentally knocks Moss off the balcony into the Thames, where her body cannot be found. Fleeing the publicity storm, the abrasive duo head for Cannes and the south of France, so Patsy can unite with an old, rich flame. However, Charlie (Barry Humphries, who later turns up as his alter ego, Dame Edna) is no longer interested, so they come up with the scheme in which Patsy pretends to be a man (a fake mustache does it) and marries the wealthy, ancient dowager, Lubliana (Marcia Warren).
Frankly, the whole idea of two elderly ladies fleeing to a foreign country because the law is after them, and hoping to find husbands, was done better by Shirley MacLaine and Jessica Lange recently in "Wild Oats." "Absolutely Fabulous" has a few funny moments, but not as many as I expected. It is filled with cameos, with dozens of people playing themselves, including Graham Norton, Joan Collins, Jerry Hall, Jon Hamm, Dawn French, Jean-Paul Gaultier, a bevy of drag queens and Rebel Wilson as an air stewardess. Chris Colfer of "Glee" plays a hairdresser.
Extras include eight deleted scenes (3:49); funny outtakes (8:03); an on-set interview with Dame Edna (extremely long at 14:22, considering how little she was in the film), who claims that Eddy and Patsy are based on Dame Edna and her maid); a photo gallery; and nine promo featurettes on the drag queens (1:39), the cameos (2:10), the locations (2:07), Legacy US (2:01) and Legacy UK (1:55), a making-of segment (2:01), fashion (1:59), characters (2:59) and Saunders and Lumley talking about the history of their characters (13:50). Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 2.5 stars
Don't Think Twice (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 92 min.). This film about an improv comedy group in New York City did not do much for me. Maybe that is because I am not into improv and I am like three decades removed from my liking "Saturday Night Live." However, comedy is a subjective thing. This film is written and directed by Mike Birbiglia, who also plays Miles, one of the six members of The Commune, who perform at Improv America. However, their venue is about to close down for good and they need to find another location.
The other Commune members are Jack (Keegan-Michael Key of the "Key & Peele" TV series; animated shows "Bob's Burgers," "Robot Chicken," "Archer"; the film "Keanu"), Samantha (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Bill (Chris Gethard) and Lindsay (Tami Sagher). Most have boring day jobs, but improv is their life. Well, Lindsay has rich parents. Samantha and Jack are dating. The network sketch show, "Weekend Live," has Jack and Samantha come in for auditions, and Jack gets hired, leading the other troupe members to wonder about their futures, which, for most, look bleak. Several hope that Jack's new position will get them writing jobs on "Weekend Live."
Extras include three deleted scenes of improv (2:56); a look at the creative team (5:09); the art of improv (3:09); and a look at the plot and characters (6:43). Grade: film 2.25 stars; extras 2 stars
BrainDead (CBS/Paramount, 4 DVDs, NR, 9 hours 21 min.). On the other hand, I loved this quirky limited series that mixed an alien insect invasion with Washington, D.C. politics. From the creators of the series, "The Good Wife," the series ran for 13 episodes. A second season may have been planned, but the show was not renewed.
The main characters are young, struggling documentary filmmaker Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead; see "The Hollars" above), who takes a job working for her brother, Sen. Luke Healy (Danny Pino of "Cold Case"), as his constituency caseworker to raise funds for her long-delayed documentary; Healy, who is battling more establishment figures, such as Sen. Red Wheatus (a hilarious Tony Shalhoub of TV's "Monk"); and Wheatus' assistant, Gareth Ritter (Aaron Tveit of TV's "Graceland," "Grease Live"), whom Laurel starts an affair with, even though their bosses are on different sides of the aisle. Throw in the fact that an alien invasion is underway by insects that crawl in one's ear and consume part of the host's brain, and you have a very funny, if weird show. Oh yes, sometimes the aliens make heads explode, and they seem to particularly like The Cars song, "You Might Think."
The set comes with almost an hour of extras, including deleted scenes, a gag reel, a look at the cast, a behind-the-scenes look with show creators Robert and Michelle King, and a look at how events of the 2016 election were projected into the series. Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars
Also in release:
Beauty & The Beast: The Final Season (CBS/Paramount, 4 DVDs, NR, 9 hours 2 min.). In the series, no-nonsense homicide detective Catherine "Cat" Chandler (Kristin Kreuk), who has had a troubled past, falls in love with Vincent Keller (Jay Ryan), a handsome doctor who was reportedly killed while serving in Afghanistan in 2002. Vincent has been living in hiding for 10 years, but Cat and Tess (Nina Lisandrello) found his fingerprints, proving he was still alive. Vincent, who when enraged becomes a terrifying beast, unable to control his super-strength and heightened senses, has been helped by his childhood friend, J.T. Forbes (Austin Basis). The show lasted four years. Bonus features include a look back at the season, with new interviews by cast, crew and showrunner Brad Kern; a look at the final days on set; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.
Dead Rising: Endgame (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 96 min.). Based on the videogame series and the sequel to "Dead Rising: Watchtower," the film chronicles the return of Chase Carter (Jesse Metcalfe of TV's "Dallas," "Desperate Housewives"), an investigative journalist haunted by his past and hunted by the military. After narrowly escaping a zombie quarantine, Chase and some dubious allies have to hack their way through the zombie hordes that fill all corners of the abandoned city. Along the way, they unravel a government conspiracy. The film, which is being released the same day as the "Dead Rising 4" video game, marks the 10th anniversary of the franchise. Also in the film are Billy Zane, Dennis Haysbert, Marie Avgeropoulos, Jessica Harmon, Keegan Connor Tracy, Ian Tracey, Victor Webster, Camille Sullivan and Patrick Sabongui. The extras are seven featurettes, four of which look at characters played by Metcalfe, Tracy, Harmon and Avgeropoulos; one looks at the weapons; one is on going from game to screen; and the last looks at transforming the extras into zombies.
2016 World Series Champions (Shout Factory!, Blu-ray + DVD, NR, 90 min.). This is the official film from Major League Baseball of the Chicago Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, with an improbable three-game run comeback over the Cleveland Indians. The extras include regular-season highlights (the Cubs won 103 games), clinching moments, World Series highlights and the celebratory parade. The film itself has exclusive access and interviews.
On Dec. 13 will come an 8-disc set on Blu-ray and DVD, "2016 World Series Collector's Edition: Chicago Cubs," that contains every inning and every play from the World Series, with a running time of 20 hours. Each of the seven games will be wrapped with SleeveStats, containing official stats and game trivia. There also will be a bonus disc of the pennant-clinching National League Championship Series game 6 at Wrigley Field, as well as four audio options, so that fans can listen to the games while listening to either the television broadcast, Cubs Radio Network announcers, the Indians Radio Network or a Spanish-language version.