Another big slate of releases this week as the studios gear up for the juggernaut of Black Friday. So we’ve got big hits, box sets, and the usual assortment of oddballs today!
I don’t really like Melissa McCarthy. I mean, I’m sure she’s a nice person, but I don’t like her in movies. She basically plays the exact same character in every movie. Compare her roles in Bridesmaids, The Heat, Identity Thief and now Tammy, and it’s like one big movie that never ends. The worst part about Tammy is that everyone else in it is terrific. Susan Sarandon steals the show, Kathy Bates is great, Mark Duplass is charming, and Gary Cole is almost unrecognizable. But the film relies too much on Melissa McCarthy’s style of lowest common denominator humor to be funny, and it’s not; it just gets tiresome. I think Melissa McCarthy is talented, but I wish she’s find some way to show it again. This film isn’t it.
Clint Eastwood directs this adaptation of the hit Broadway musical about the rise to fame of Franki Valli and the Four Seasons. Now, I’ve always had a soft spot for their music, but I was never moved to go check out a broadway show about it. But, hey, give me a two-hour movie version and I’m interested. And Jersey Boys is surprisingly good. Eastwood’s direction is solid and surefooted as always, and John Lloyd Young (who won a Tony for his role as Valli on Broadway) reprises his role here, which is an impressive move for a studio to make; I’m sure they would have rather had a marquee star in the lead. The film is filled with the usual rise-to-fame moments and the inevitable this-is-where-things-start-to-go-bad moments, but it’s an enjoyable watch and you’ll find yourself with all those familiar songs stuck in your head.
Now that True Blood has concluded its ridiculously popular run on HBO, it makes sense that HBO would collect the entire series into one huge box set (and just in time for the holidays!) I’ve never been the biggest True Blood fan in the world, but I like the show well enough. Based on the popular series of books by Charlaine Harris, the show holds nothing back. Its filled with sex, violence, and language; of course, you’d expect nothing less from HBO. It also manages to capture a very particular Louisiana vibe; it’s not quite southern gothic, more like “dirty south,” and it really gives the show a flavor and identity all its own. I find that I really have to be in the mood to watch True Blood. I like that it explores a darker, more edgy vampire world than fare like, say, Vampire Diaries, but whenever I sit down to watch it, it kind of puts me in a dark place. But for those fans who consider themselves die-hard, this box set offers everything they could possibly want: every single episode, hours upon hours of special features, and gorgeous packaging. Season 7 also gets its own stand-alone release this week.
Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskie, and Lena Dunham star in this low-fi mumblecore indie drama. Directed by Joe Swanberg (who directed the similar Drinking Buddies), the film is a weird mix of vibes. On the one hand, I really like the intimacy of it. It presents some of the most realistic characters I’ve ever seen (probably because the dialogue is largely improvised) and does so without judgment. Anna Kendrick’s character drinks, smokes, gets high, hooks up, and the film never presents it as good or bad. It’s just what somebody in their twenties might do. But the problem is that the film never goes anywhere. It’s just a couple of days in this handful of people’s lives. There’s no major conflict and no real plot. I like the actors and the characters in the film (except for Lena Dunham, who I can’t stand), but I wish there was more to it.
Weird Al Yankovic’s cult classic comedy from the late ’80s is finally available on Blu-ray in an all-new special edition from Shout Factory. I had actually never seen this movie before, although I know a lot of people loved it back in the day and still do. And while it’s often silly and over the top, I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. It’s a mash-up of a sketch comedy and a “help us save the local TV station” feel-good comedy, and it works. Michael Richards’ character is borderline offensive and Yankovic’s acting skills are moderate at best, but the jokes hit, the parodies are sharp (Gandhi II? Love it!), and I had a really good time with it.
Thomas Jane and John Cusack star in this fun, fun, fun action film that has sadly been released direct-to-video instead of getting a theatrical run. Jane stars as an ex-racecar driver who gets forced into being the getaway driver for John Cusack’s criminal with a grudge, and much of the film turns into a car chase. But Jane and Cusack play off each other wonderfully, and Cusack looks like he’s having fun in a movie for the first time in I don’t know how long. The quirky “friendship” the pair develop isn’t surprising, but it is a lot of fun to watch. Track this one down: it doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it’s a surprisingly good time.
I absolutely love Phineas & Ferb. I mean, my kids do, too, but I’m just as big a fan was they are. After last year’s terrific Marvel crossover, I wasn’t sure what the show would do to top themselves, but they did it here with Phineas & Ferb: Star Wars. Set firmly in the world of Star Wars, this parody/mash-up hits on major highlights from all of the films, focusing mostly on the original movies but also getting in some prequel jabs as well. It does it all lovingly, though, so it’s never making fun of Star Wars. But the humor is so dead on and this hour-long special is so cleverly written that you can’t NOT enjoy it. I can’t wait for the next Phineas & Ferb crossover.
After The Cartoon Network unceremoniously ended The Clone Wars animated series before the beginning of its sixth season, fans were left wondering if they’d ever get to see how everything ended. Well, that time has come with the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Lost Missions, which collects the final 13 episode of the series and lets you know what happens to all of your favorite characters. While there is an unfortunate arc starring Jar Jar Binks, the show ends on a high note with some really strong episodes. And the story does finish there’s no annoying cliffhanger to never be resolved. So Clone Wars fans, take note: there’s one last fix to be had!
For my money, Ancient Aliens is a good but frustrating show. I’ve been fascinated by UFO’s, aliens, and unsolved mysteries of that variety since I was a kid. This complete series (so far) release collects every single episode of the hit show, most of which take of an in-depth look at the phenomenon of Ancient Astronauts. If you’re not familiar with that term, it’s a theory first posited in a book in the 1970s called Chariots of the Gods that theorizes that aliens visited earth in the distant past, building the pyramids and creating the Nazca lines, and things like that. This show explores everything surrounding the possibility of aliens visiting earth in the past, and while some of it comes off as the theories of crazy people, most of it is approached from an academic point of view. With the cooperation of the book’s Author, Erik Von Daniken, the show treats the subject matter quite respectfully, and is consequently very interesting. The problem also is that there are never any defining conclusions. Since none of this stuff can be proven, there are lots of questions and very few answers, which can get a bit old sometimes. Still, for fans of the show, this nice box set is hard to resist.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- James Cameron stars in but does NOT direct James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge 3D, a fascinating look at Cameron’s journey to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, the deepest place on Earth. In a submersible of his own design, Cameron descends to the very depths of the ocean and takes us a long for the ride. While it’s not as gripping as it might be if Cameron directed it, there’s some fascinating imagery and the entire trip is extremely interesting to watch. Plus, you know, if you have a 3D TV, you can watch it in 3D.
- Released concurrently with UHF, Shout Factory also gives is The Compleat Al this week, which is a mockumentary about Weird Al Yankovic’s rise to the top of the parody music genre. With tongue firmly in cheek, this film isn’t as good as UHF, but it is pretty fun and it does include a number of classic Weird Al music videos.
- I Am Ali is the most comprehensive documentary to date on Muhammad Ali. Created through an extensive archive of personal recordings, interviews, and input from Ali’s closest family members, the film gives us an intimate look at Ali’s life and career. It’s a much more personal approach to the man than the usual documentaries that focus on his storied boxing legend. I’m not a huge fan of boxing or Ali in general (although I certainly don’t dislike him), but this moving film is extremely good.
- Asian action superstar Donnie Yen stars in Iceman, a time-travel action flick that I had high hopes for but was somewhat disappointed in. The story is about a warrior from medieval China and three of his enemies that are frozen in ice in the 1400s and then thawed out in modern day, where they resume their fight. Sounds like fun, right? Unfortunately, the filmmakers chose to go with a wire-work heavy approach in which the characters can perform dazzling feats of complete un-reality, which is something I just don’t care for all that much. It’s a certain amount of fun, but not the film I was hoping for.
- Picture an animated kids’ Christmas version of Groundhog Day and you have Frozen in Time. Starring Mira Sorvino, Ed Asner, and Drake Bell, this fun little animated movie sees the world’s time continuum thrown off balance and Christmas Day repeated again and again. This is one of those fairly-low budget animated films that seem to be coming out every month, but I’ve seen worse.
- Shout Factory’s awesome Scream Factory imprint brings us a new collector’s edition of Dolls, making its Blu-ray debut. Fitting in squarely alongside the Puppet Master and Child’s Play movies, this tale of killer dolls is directed by cult favorite (and director of Re-Animator) Stuart Gordon.
- While some of HBO’s other shows such as Veep have gotten more attention, Getting On: Season 1 has been quietly wining over critics and, I suspect, audiences as well. Laurie Metcalf stars with Alex Borstein and Niecy Nash as the doctors and nurses of a hospital unit that helps elderly women. The show falls squarely into the “dramedy” category and I can see why people like it, even if it’s not quite my cup of tea.
- Out of Morgan Spurlock’s production wheelhouse we get I Am Santa Claus, produced by former professional wrestling superstar Mick Foley, who also appears in the film. This is an endearing look at the lives of five professional Santa Claus-es; you know, the guys who appear as Santa every holiday season. The movie follows each of them for a year, giving us a glimpse into their lives and their preparations for the holiday season. It’s a charming and fascinating film, and it’s definitely worth a look.
- Cinedigm has three new anime movies out on DVD and Blu-ray this week, and they couldn’t be more different. Patema Inverted is my favorite of the three. It’s very similar to the Jim Sturgess/Kirsten Dunst film Upside Down, as it features two people from worlds with opposite gravity who meet and change each others’ lives. It’s an interesting movie and I found it quite engaging. Nocturna is much more of a fairy tale, with a young orphan discovering a hidden world. The animation is much softer and more stylized, and this is a film for people who like things a bit more surreal. Finally, Welcome to the Space Show is a fun story about five kids who — through a convoluted series of events — find themselves stuck n space and having to make their way back to earth. It’s a fun movie and very visually inventive as it features a revolving cast of various aliens and creatures.
- Completely repackaged and available exclusively at Target, The Brady Bunch: The Complete First, Second, Third, Fourth and Final Seasons collect every single episode of America’s most famous blended family. I’m not sure what prompted these re-releases as the original season sets are still readily available, but these slimmer cases are better looking and more compact, so that’s a bonus. I guess with the holidays coming up, it was as good a time as any to remind people about the Brady clan. There are no new extra features or remastered picture/sound, though, so these are really only for people who don’t already own the episodes.
- I’m not quite sure why I loved the show as a kid (since it was really more a show for adults) but Quincy, M.E.: Season 7 was a welcome addition to my DVD collection. I used to love watching Jack Klugman’s cranky old medical examiner solve mysterious cases week after week. And even though he could be cantankerous, he was never a complete jerk like that House guy. A fun flashback!
- Not a time travel thriller like the title might imply, The House at the End of Time is a more traditional horror film. This Spanish-language frightener is a pretty interesting ride; it’s a traditional horror story and then also not a traditional horror story in the least. To say more would spoil things, but suffice it to say that I was fairly impressed.
- On the other end of the spectrum, we have S.O.B.: Summer of Blood, an oddball horror/comedy about vampires. What happens when a complete loser is made into a vampire instead of the usual slickly-coiffed hunks and fashion models. Well, things get weird. And so you have Summer of Blood, a somewhat successful take on vampires that’s a bit off the beaten path.
- I’m not sure what convinced Michael Rapaport, Chazz Palminteri and Paul Sorvino to agree to star in Once Upon a Time in Queens, but I’m sure they regret it. This low budget crime drama is just bad from start to finish, with poor production values, a terrible script, and even bad acting. Avoid this one.
- Not faring much better is Covert Operation, a direct-to-video actioner starring five-time World Karate Champion Seydina Balde. Nope, I’ve never heard of him, either. And while he’s got the karate stuff down, the acting part is another story. This isn’t completely awful, but trying to action movies on shoestring budgets rarely works, and this film isn’t the exception to that rule.
- If you’re a wrestling fan, you might be tempted to watch Queens of the Ring for the cameos by The Miz, CM Punk, and Eve Torres, but I can assure you, would be wrong. Lady cashiers turned pro wrestlers, but not as a comedy? Ummm… no thanks.
- Ice Warriors USA Sled Hockey is a really strong documentary from PBS about the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey team, which features an assortment of men with missing legs who play ice hockey, and in this case played in the Sochi Paralympics. An inspiring look at men from all different backgrounds coming together to overcome adversity, you can’t watch this doc and not be inspired.
- The thing about sports documentaries is, even if you know what’s going to happen, they’re almost always good. We Could Be King isn’t just about a football team or a community’s sports programs; it deals with school budget issues and how they affect families. Pretty good stuff.
- Timed to release right on Veterans’ Day, Liberty: Heroes of the American Revolution is a two-disc collection of history-themed documentaries. Programs included are: Founding Fathers Miniseries, 10 Things You Don’t Know About: The Founding Fathers, 10 Things You Don’t Know About: Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere: The Midnight Rider. Six hours of content means history buffs get a lot of bang for their buck.
- The military has always had a spotty history with people who have unconventional sexual preferences, but Lady Valor is the first documentary I know of to tell the tale of a transsexual soldier. Former U.S. Navy SEAL Christopher Beck shocked many people when — after 20 years as a Navy SEAL — he embarked on a new life as Kristin Beck. Powerful stuff.
- An all-star cast features in Dear Secret Santa, one of the countless Christmas-themed romance movies going direct-to-DVD. Tatyana Ali, Ernie Hudson, Jordan Sparks, Lamorne Morris, Bill Cobbs, and Della Reese star in this holiday-themed twist on You’ve Got Mail.
- Art 21: Art in the Twenty-First Century – Season 7 continues the popular PBS show about modern art, taking us behind the scenes of a diverse range of artists, with a unique focus on each of them and something about them that’s different from the others. I don’t know much about modern art, but if you do, these names will probably interest you: Thomas Hirschhorn, Graciela Iturbide, Leonardo Drew, Elliott Hundley, Arlene Shechet, Trevor Paglen, Wolfgang Laib, Tania Bruguera, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Katharina Grosse, Joan Jonas, and Omer Fast.
- Nature: Animal Misfits is a fun documentary about weird, odd, or quirky animals. We learn about how they survive despite the odds against them, and I guarantee you’ll be fascinated by some of these crazy animals, such as the giant panda, the mudskipper, the big-headed mole, the woolly bear caterpillar, and plenty of others.
- A post-apocalyptic zombie movie of sorts, El Desierto (The Desert) is certainly unique. If you’re looking for typical zombie fare, this is the wrong movie for you. Instead, it is a claustrophobic character piece that barely has zombies in it. This is a drama trapped in a genre movie, and it’s all the better for it. The pace is slow but deliberate, and more experimental zombie fans will likely enjoy it.
- Ugh. I’m over this show and writing about it. Duck Dynasty: Duck the Halls is yet another cheap cash-in that features two episodes of the show, one Thanksgiving-themed and one Christmas-themed. That’s all the column space I can give to this show’s umpteenth unnecessary DVD release.
- The beautiful Ola Rapace stars in the Norwegian drama I Am Yours, about a traditional middle eastern girl in a culture that clashes with her family’s traditional ways. As she tries to find love, she must deal with disapproval from her family, all while trying to raise a young son. Great for fans of foreign films.