Despite the fact that Black Friday is just a few days away — or perhaps because of it? — this week is one of the smallest release weeks of the year. With just a handful of big-name movies, the remainder of the list is mostly straight-to-video fare. Here’s the full list:
The Expendables 3 –
Simply put, The Expendables 3 is a hell of a lot of fun. One of the most fun movie-watching experiences I’ve had in a while, actually. Somehow, the crew of Expendables gets even bigger, adding in faces like Harrison Ford and Wesley Snipes, while also making room for a whole new cast of young actors. But the real highlight of the movie is newcomer-to-the-franchise Antonio Banderas, who injects a healthy dose of humor in a surprisingly funny role. The movie may have done poorly at the box office due to it being leaked on the internet, but don’t let that dissuade you from adding this movie to your collection. It’s too much fun not to watch again and again.
This hidden gem of a movie got minimal press, and even that came about mostly because Daniel Radcliffe plays one of the lead roles, opposite Zoe Kazan and Adam Driver. But even while largely unknown to the masses, What If is a charming and funny romantic comedy. The plot is strictly-by-the-numbers, and there’s absolutely nothing that will surprise you, but the script is extremely sharp and the chemistry between Radcliffe and Kazan is something else. Actually, Radcliffe might possibly be the most charismatic person in the planet. Somebody get that boy in another franchise, stat! What If is funny, sweet, cute, romantic, and enjoyable from start to finish.
I’ve never read the popular book by Lois Lowry that the movie is based on, but I’m a sucker for any kind of dystopia (or in this case, utopia) movie. And while I can see why it didn’t light up the box office (the first 25 minutes is in black and white), I actually enjoyed it. It’s a thoughtful, deliberately-paced movie, but it has an interesting concept and the young cast is quite likable. The idea of a world without memories is intriguing, and Jeff Bridges’ passion for the project is obvious, both in the film and the accompanying extra features. This isn’t a Hunger Games-styled action film, but if you like the book, you should definitely give this one a try.
Okay, I’m officially out of things to say about Mystery Science Theater 3000 on DVD. As always, there really isn’t anything here that you won’t find on many other MST3K releases out there, although I do like these box sets over the single movie releases. This particular entry is a stand-out, though. Packaged in a collectible metal tin, it comes with a ton of extra features (including some posters). This go-around, the four movies lampooned include Jungle Goddess, The Painted Hills, The Screaming Skull, and Squirm, and the results are a lot of laughs.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- If you didn’t have enough with the regular edition, now you can watch Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Extended Director’s Cut Volume 1 & 2. Yep, even more sex, talk about fishing, and Shia LeBeouf. Despite being billed as a “controversial” two-part movie, the films are actually anything but. Despite a cast that includes Stellan Skarsgard, Shia Leboeuf, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Connie Nielsen, Uma Thurman, Christian Slater, Stacey Martin, Jamie Bell, and Willem Dafoe, the film is basically a really boring attempt at a porn film. Yes, there are punctuating moments of extremely graphic sex, but in between, it’s mostly people ruminating on comparing sex to fishing and trees to souls. Really? Ultimately, what Nymphomaniac really wants to be is an art house porno.
- I’ve been pretty rough on Adventure Time in previous reviews, but I’m trying to give it another chance. So I figured that Adventure Time: Finn the Human, the latest release in the series, might be a good way to get caught up And for the most part, I still have no idea what the hell is going on, but think maybe I’m starting to figure things out. Maybe. Regardless, this DVD comes packaged with a Finn backpack, which is a pretty darn cool extra feature to get with a DVD!
- Speaking of things I simply don’t get, Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Christmas is out this week. Every time a new Madea movie comes out, I have to watch it because none of my reviewers want to tackle it. And every time, I am confused as to what people enjoy about seeing Tyler Perry in drag. Some of his Madea movies have some interesting characters or stories, but then Madea comes on screen and ruins it all. I wish I could say this one was different, but sadly, it’s not.
- Speaking of, Tyler Perry’s Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned: The Play is also out this week. These live plays put on DVD are an interesting exercise, but I don’t find them as engaging as either real movies or being at a live performance. Still, at least there’s no Madea.
- Drunk History Seasons 1 and 2 sounds like a terrible premise for a show: people get drunk and talk about real history while celebrities lip-synch along to the drunken ramblings. Okaaaaayyy… sure. But when you add in stars like Chris Parnell, Kristin Wiig, Will Forte, Jack Black, Fred Willard, Winona Rider, and Owen Wilson, and talk about things like Watergate, The Alamo, Lewis and Clark, Martin Luther King Jr., The Lincoln Assassination, Al Capone, Billy the Kid, and Houdini, the results are pretty damn funny.
- History Presents: The Definitive World War I & World War II Collection is a massive 20-disc collection that includes a number of documentary specials on the two biggest wars in history. With over 62 hours of programming, this collection offers up some of the History Channel’s most popular fare like WWI: The First Modern War, Dogfights, D-Day in HD, WWII in HD, The Color of War, Ultimate WWII Weapons, Patton 360°, and the Emmy®-nominated miniseries The World Wars. Pretty great stuff for history buffs!
- Masterpiece Mystery: Inspector Lewis 7 is yet another hit British mystery show, and it’s a pretty solid one. The show is apparently a spin-off from another British show called Morse, but I’ve never seen that one so I can’t compare. Inspector Lewis follows Inspector Robert Lewis (Kevin Whately) and his partner, Detective Sergeant James Hathaway (Laurence Fox), as they solve crimes on the Oxford countryside and Colleges. While not my favorite of the British crime shows (that honor goes to Murphy’s Law), it is certainly an enjoyable series, and I like the TV-movie-like approach to the episodes. Production values on the show are a bit lower than American audiences might be used to, but for those who enjoy the PBS/UK-style mysteries, this show is a solid one.
- Are you a San Francisco Giants fan? Then you’ll definitely want to pick up The Official 2014 World Series Film, which gives a highlights approach to this year’s world series. We see the Giants go through playoffs and the Fall Classic before taking the pennant, and it’s all punctuated by bonus features that include exclusive interviews. A must-have for fans!
- The Hallmark Channel has four new holiday-themed movies out this season. As always, they are filled with plot twists, deep characters, and unusual concepts. Or not. Still, they offer up exactly what a fan of Hallmark movies would want around the holidays. A Royal Christmas stars Jane Seymour and Lacey Chabert and deals with a woman who finds out her fiancé is a prince. What a tragedy. Eric Mabius, Kristin Booth, Marion Ross, and Rob Estes star in Signed, Sealed, Delivered For Christmas which is a more dramatic film about charity at the holidays. Brandon Routh and Gregory Harrison star in Nine Lives of Christmas, about a man who learns to love thanks to the love of a cat — which sounds weirder when you describe it like that. Finally, A Cookie Cutter Christmas stars Erin Krakow, David Haydn-Jones, and Alan Thicke and features two teachers fighting over the same love interest… and baked goods.
- The Nova team recreates the flights of the earliest hot air balloons in Nova: Ben Franklin’s Balloons, an interesting enough documentary that traces some of the origins of man’s journey into flight.
- An all-star international cast that includes John Malkovich, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, and Mathieu Almaric star in Lines of Wellington. Clocking in at nearly three hours, this epic set during The Napoleonic Wars of 1810 features the usual mix of colorful characters across a swath of settings and economic classes. A bit long, but interesting enough and featuring some great performances, history fans will appreciate this one.
- The true story of a blind piano prodigy (played by said blind piano prodigy!) Touch of the Light is a dramatic movie from China that’s surprisingly good. Many of these types of films — especially foreign versions — can be over treacly, but this is an inspiring story that isn’t overly cheesy.
- Did you know that in 800 BC, a little-known subject state of Egypt rose up and conquered the Egyptians, enthroned its own Pharaohs, and ruled over the empire of King Tut for nearly 100 years? Me neither. According to the documentery Rise of the Black Pharaohs, it’s because said conquerors were dark skinned and it’s been buried by history. Interesting stuff.
- Nova: First Air War takes a look at the rapid acceleration of the design and capabilities of airplanes as attack fighters in World War I, and how they transformed from biplanes to the modern warfare aircraft we have today. Great for history buffs and aviation fanatics alike.
- Que Bonito Amor, or Beautiful Love, is a Spanish telenovela that has been released on DVD. Completely in Spanish (but with English subtitles) this release is clearly targeted at the hispanic market (even the packaging is all in Spanish), but for those who like some fiery foreign soap operatics, this is right up your alley.