No blockbusters this week, but there are a lot of really good independent films are hitting the shelves. Plus, there’s the requisite last push for horror films just a few days before Halloween. Here’s the full list:
Wish I Was Here –
Zach Braff’s Kickstarter funded dramedy didn’t receive the same warm welcome his first directorial effort, Garden State, did. And perhaps that’s because it’s not quite as good as Garden State, but maybe it’s also because it’s not quite as “hip” as Garden State was, either. I don’t mean that as an insult to Wish I Was Here, but Garden State was about young, quirky people falling in love to a buzzworthy soundtrack. Wish I Was Here is about parenting and death. Is it any wonder that fans didn’t react to it the same way?
I’m not one of the people who considers themselves a fan of Once, director John Carney’s first film. I like the music in it, sure, but I found it awfully dull and a lot more depressing than I wanted it to be. So I was wary to revisit a new film by the same director that also happened to be a musical of sorts. Add in the fact that Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine (someone I really can’t stand) co-stars, and I expected a disaster, or at least a let-down. But I ended up enjoying Begin Again quite a bit. The chemistry between Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley is what drives the film, the music is very good, and Adam Levine plays a real jerk, so I didn’t mind him being in it. This is a fun little film that’s worth seeking out.
Poor Eric Bana. He’s such a talented actor, but he seems to make a lot of bad choices in what movies he picks to star in. Deliver Us From Evil is another recent horror let-down and yet another exorcism movie. This one is supposedly based on true events, but come on, really? Do any of these “based on true events movies” really have any truth in them? I doubt it. I will say that I liked Joel McHale in his supporting role as an NYC cop. I know he’s playing against type and some people didn’t think he was very good in it, but I dug him. I also wish Olivia Munn had a bigger part because, well, Olivia Munn. Admittedly, I’ve seen worse horror movies this year, but there are definitely better ones out there, too.
Unlike Eric Bana, Jennifer Aniston somehow manages to often pick roles that elevate her status, and Life of Crime is one of those movies. Based on an Elmore Leonard novel (so you know it has to be at least a little good), this movie has a simple premise: what happens when you kidnap a rich man’s wife and he doesn’t want her back? The result is a clever, funny little caper film that shines because of both Aniston and a terrific supporting cast, which includes Tim Robbins, Will Forte, Isla Fisher, and John Hawkes. This is another film that’s worth tracking down.
I had never seen Clive Barker’s Nightbreed before, because, frankly, I had no interest in it. I’ve never really been drawn to grotesque monsters and the like, and the movie came out when I was kind of young, so it sort of faded from the popular consciousness before I was old enough to really get interested in seeing it. But with Scream Factory’s new Director’s Cut Blu-ray out this week, I finally decided to check out this film that I remember being around but had never seen. And it turns out it’s actually pretty cool. Featuring some 40 minutes of new footage (and a 20 minute longer cut in total), the film held my interest from start to finish, and it has a neat visual flair along the way. I can’t compare it to the original (which is only included in a limited edition version of this release), but as a new viewer, I was caught up in the whole world of Midian and its monsters. Neat.
Maybe I’m dating myself, but I loved this show when I was a kid. Watching it now, I’m pretty sure that half the jokes went right over my head (although I do remember being in love with Loni Anderson just like everyone else, so I must have gotten at least a few of them.) WKRP In Cincinnati is a great example of a real ensemble comedy; from Loni Anderson’s Jennifer to uber-nerd Les Nessman to Dr. Fever and Venus Flytrap, WKRP featured a core of eccentric and interesting characters. Sadly, the humor on WKRP definitely shows its age. That’s not to say it’s a bad show, but it has lost some of the shine that made the show so appealing in its heyday. You’ll find yourself chuckling a lot more than you will laughing out loud, but I imagine die-hard fans from back in the day will enjoy having this cast of characters back on their screens. Now available for the first time as a complete series set, this gorgeous box set includes a few new featurettes and an awesome 2014 reunion Q&A panel with the entire cast. Sweet!
Not to be confused with the 1993 version starring Jeff Bridges, Keifer Sutherland, and Sandra Bullock, the 1988 Dutch version of The Vanishing is both the original film and a superior one. It tells the story of a man whose girlfriend disappears while the couple are stopped at a rest stop to get gas. And… that’s it. No, there’s a lot more to this film, but to tell you anything more at all would ruin the fun, especially if you’ve never seen the American remake. What I can tell you is that despite a cast of unknowns (at least here in the States) and being in Dutch, this is a twisty thriller that is a must-see for fans of the genre.
I don’t really care about My Little Pony at all (no Bronies here!), but my daughter loved this movie. The story revolves around three sirens on the alternate Equestria where there are human counterparts for all of your favorite ponies. After the events of the first film, they’re drawn to the Equestrian magic and seek to find the girls who are connected to Equestria. The Dazzlings, as they’re called, come to Canterlot High and turn a talent show into a Battle of the Bands, so they can feed off the negative energy of the competition. Enter Twilight and Spike, who come to help the Canterlot girls save the day. My daughter really enjoyed the movie. It’s big, bright, fast-paced, and has lots of songs in it. As a parent, I found it to be extremely tolerable. And I don’t mean that as a dig, but I’m not a Brony; I watched this solely so my daughter could enjoy it, and she did, very much. But I had no problem sitting through it, and the songs are well-written and catchy for what they are.
Also available this week on Blu-ray and DVD:
- It’s been three years since the giant slobbery dog’s last direct-to-video outing, but the franchise continues on with Beethoven’s Treasure Tail. Starring Jonathan Silverman, Morgan Fairchild, Kristy Swanson, and Jeffrey Combs, this one sees the pooch and his family on a hunt for buried treasure. Nothing like as a good as the original, this is still a fun family adventure.
- Grace: The Possession offers up an interesting spin on the demonic possession genre, presenting the film through the eyes of the possessed. Which ultimately makes it a found-footage styled movie, but by removing the story device of having to have a camera rolling at all times, it’s much less annoying than your typical found footage movie garbage. This is a neat little horror film.
- Jason Patric takes the lead role (but appears behind Bruce Willis on the cover) of The Prince, a surprisingly decent new direct-to-video action film. John Cusack also cameos (like Willis, he’s only in it for a few minutes) in this tale of a man with a past trying to rescue his daughter. Sure, it’s been done before, but it’s definitely been done worse.
- Making its Blu-ray debut, Squirm is a cult classic horror film about killer worms. Yep. Killer worms. But as handled by Shout Factory’s always-terrific Scream Factory imprint, this new Blu-ray contains a nice collection of extra features and restored and remastered sound and picture. Fans of cult horror will have a lot of fun with this one.
- Ed Speleers and Will Poulter star in Plastic, a heist film that crosses The Bling Ring with Ocean’s 11. When a group of young credit card scammers cross the wrong people, they have a short amount of time to find a large amount of money. Like The Prince above, this is a film that’s been done before, but I rather enjoyed it, even if it’s about as deep as a puddle.
- Dinesh D’Souza, the man behind 2016: Obama’s America, is back with America: Imagine the World without Her, another film that he uses to try and proclaim how much he loves America and then proceeds to tear it down. I don’t dislike D’Souza just because I disagree with his politics, but he’s also a bad filmmaker and a terrible on-screen presence. Die hard right wing Republicans might like this one, but I can’t image anyone else will.
- James Franco dials down all of his weird and odd writing, acting, and directing to star with Kate Hudson in Good People, yet another film in the trend this week of “been there, done that, but seen it worse.” In this case, a young couple in serious debt find a bag full of money that’s not theirs. And then, of course… people want it back. Franco and Hudson are good in the lead roles, and The Intouchables‘ Omar Sy is really fun as the bad guy. Worth a look!
- Sarah Butler, DB Sweeney, and Malcolm McDowell star in Free Fall, a film I wanted to like a lot more than I did. A woman who uncovers an embezzling conspiracy in a big company gets trapped in an elevator in a high rise by a corporate assassin. Normally, I love these kinds of movies, but Free Fall starts off good and ends strong, but drags in the middle. I like DB Sweeney as the bad guy quite a bit, but Sarah Butler lacks some of that on-screen star quality in the lead role.
- Barbra Stanwyck, Lee Majors, and Linda Evans return to the small screen in The Big Valley: Season 4, which collects all 26 episodes of the hit western series. After a long wait, Shout Factory picked up the reins from Fox to bring this well-loved show to fans who have been eagerly awaiting its release, and now they seem to be moving ahead with it full steam.
- Anthony La Paglia and Luke Hemsworth have a battle of the less-famous brothers in The Reckoning, a crime thriller with a good premise and a poor execution. A cop looking into the death of his partner starts to find connections to himself, which makes for a good set-up. Unfortunately, the movie then drags until the last 20 minutes, when the ending redeems it at least a little. Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late.
- I was pretty surprised by Behaving Badly, an ensemble comedy that takes a page from the American Pie playbook but definitely finds its own way. With a terrific cast that includes Selena Gomez, Nat Wolff, Heather Graham, Dylan McDermott, and Mary Louise Parker, the stand-out has to be Elisabeth Shue, who pays an overly horny housewife obsessed with the high school protagonist. I wasn’t expecting to like this movie, but I actually had quite a bit of fun with it.
- How We Got to Now is a new six-part series co-created and hosted by hit science and technology author Steven Johnson (Where Good Ideas Come From, Everything Bad is Good for You) that looks at inventions, history, and how they tie in together to affect modern science and invention. It’s pretty fascinating stuff, and it definitely opens your eyes to how the world came to be the way it is today.
- The Americans‘ Matthew Rhys plays Mr. Rhys in Death Comes to Pemberley, an imaginative continuation of Pride and Prejudice that sees a mystery comes to Pemberley. When a guest at a party is mysteriously killed, suspicion falls on Wickham. The rest of the story falls on the family’s trying to keep things together and the usual Jane Austen-ian drama. Its a fun little take on the potential future of Austen’s characters, and Doctor Who‘s Jenna Coleman being in the cast is just an added bonus.
- LFO is a somewhat twisted Swedish film about a man who is experimenting with sound waves and accidentally discovers a frequency that will control people’s minds. Rather than using this control to have them rob banks or assassinate people, he instead focuses on the couple that lives next door. And then things get complicated… It’s a fun and unique little film that has some elements of black comedy in it.
- Sort of a coal mine version of The Descent, Beneath is a tight little thriller about a group of miners trapped in a cave-in who discover that they might not be alone in the underground. Once again, this falls into the category we’ve seen so many times this week: a derivative film that could be better, could be worse. But I like this genre of film, so I enjoyed it.
- A lot of fan controversy has arisen over the new Ghost in the Shell series, Arise: Borders 1 & 2, most of which has been focuses on the series having a new voice cast. As someone who’s only casually familiar with the series, I didn’t have any problem with that. My problem lies more in the usual issues I have with Anime, in that I only know what’s going on half the time. Still, the show looks great, and I think fans who can get over the voice casting will enjoy it.
- In what is now almost a weekly series of releases of unconnected CGI-animated films with low-budgets and good casts, Adventure Planet boasts the voices of Brooke Shields, Jane Lynch, Danny Glover, and J.K. Simmons. This is a typically weird entry from Arc Entertainment that sees a young boy who can talk to the earth who ends up trying to save the planet. As one does.
- Christopher Kimball returns to host Cook’s Country: Season Seven, co-starring the usual renovated 1806 farmhouse, full working test kitchen, guest chefs, and a live audience. Cooking show fans love this show, and now the latest season is on DVD.
- Bound By Flesh is an interesting documentary about real-life conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton who became sideshow attractions and went on to become something of celebrities. As with the best documentaries, this one goes some places you don’t expect, and it’s pretty interesting stuff overall.
- Dinosaur Train: Dinosaurs in the Snow is a fun little cartoon on PBS. It mostly follows a family of dinosaurs (mostly Pteranodons, but with one young adopted T-Rex thrown in for good measure) in prehistoric times, with a dinosaur train that takes them all overt the land for new adventures. This collection has an obvious winter/holiday theme, and as an added bonus, it comes with a figure of Buddy packed inside.
- Brianna Evigan and Brooke Burns star in A Star For Christmas, a Hallmark Channel take on Notting Hill, but with a Christmas theme. Obviously, it won’t play well outside of its target demographic, but for what it is, it’s solid enough.