After the past few weeks have been something of a wasteland for new releases, the studios haven’t wasted any time making sure the new year launches with tons of home entertainment options for you to enjoy. Here’s what’s on tap this week:
I hate writing about movies that have been universally critically acclaimed. Actually, I should clarify: I hate writing about movies that have been universally critically acclaimed when I actually like them. When I don’t like them, it’s easy to find something different to say about them than what everyone else has. But with a movie like Boyhood, what am I going to say that other people haven’t already? It’s fantastic. The performances are excellent across the board, and the “gimmick” of being shot over 12 years is anything but. You get so caught up in the story and the drama that you stop thinking about how the movie was made and just enjoy it. This one should be a serious Oscar contender, and for good reason.
There’s absolutely nothing bad to say about No Good Deed. It’s a perfectly serviceable, by-the-numbers thriller. It’s just that I’ve seen it a hundred times before. Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson are both terrific in the lead roles, and the film moves at a pretty good clip, developing characters and building suspense slowly. But it’s just so “been there, done that,” that it’s hard to get excited about it. I just wish it would have been a little bit more interesting or original, because the talent involved is pretty top-notch.
Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stephens proves that he made the right choice when he left Matthew behind, as he gives a stellar performance in the excellent suspense thriller The Guest. Like No Good Deed, on the surface this seems like a movie we’ve seen a hundred time before. But unlike No Good Deed, The Guest is exceptional. It offers up twists and turns and it ratchets up the tension, but there’s something about the film which makes it feel fresh and new. Judging by his performance here, Dan Stephens is headed for bigger and better things, and I won’t be surprised if he’s a household name before the new year is out.
Chadwick Boseman — who played Jackie Robinson so terrifically in 42 — returns to the biopic world in Get On Up, where he portrays the hardest working man in show business, the godfather of soul, one James Brown. As with most biopics, it’s the actors who make the movie shine. The film itself is a pretty standard biographic narrative, but Boseman is utterly amazing as Brown. I’m not an expert on James Brown by any stretch, but this film feels like as close as I’ll ever come to understanding what it was like when he was at the height of his polarity. A solid watch if nothing exceptional, this one is still worth checking out for Boseman alone.
This adaptation of Joe Hill’s hit novel Horns — which stars Daniel Radcliffe as a man accused of murdering his girlfriend who then grows horns which can force people to reveal their deepest secrets — has been almost universally savaged by critics. And while I won’t go so far as to say that I loved the film, I also don’t think it’s as terrible as some people have claimed. It’s a deeply flawed movie, but Radcliffe is excellent (as he is in everything) and any movie with Juno Temple in it is okay in my book. I haven’t read the original novel yet (I understand there are some major differences) but as a standalone film, Horns is far from a slam dunk. Still, I’ve seen worse.
Starz’s hit pirate series finally debuts on home video, just in time for Season Two to set sail. With Michael Bay producing, the production values on this show are amazing, and the results are pretty dam awesome. Starz was clearly trying to creat a Game-of-Thrones-with-pirates show, and I think they’ve largely succeeded. The cast is terrific, the action sequences are outstanding, and the show is fun to watch and engaging. And the cast is equally easy on the eyes for guys and girls; there are a lot of very pretty people in the cast. If you’re like me and don’t pay for premium TV, now is the chance to have some fun and check out Black Sails.
Despite the fact that I really don’t like Lena Dunham, I keep reviewing Girls, just in case it gets better. After all, the show has been such a hit and gotten such good reviews, eventually, I’d have to figure out why, right? Umm… no. In fact, not only is Girls: Season Three more of the same, but it’s basically the exact same thing as the first two seasons. A self-absorbed and obnoxious New York twentysomething and her self-absorbed and obnoxious friends live their lives and ruminate on boys, work, and life, but they do so in completely annoying, unlikable, and narcissistic ways. Dunham’s brand of “comedy” does nothing for me, and I still find the unbelievably annoying. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I really, really, REALLY don’t like this show. Why this series is getting so much acclaim, I honestly have no idea. This show’s appeal is a mystery to me. I don’t think I could enjoy it less.
Also available on Blu-ray and DVD this week:
- Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier star in The Boys From Brazil, which makes its debut on Blu-ray this week. A 70’s conspiracy/paranoia thriller — along the lines of The Marathon Man or Three Days of the Condor — The Boys From Brazil sees Hitler being cloned and bred as a group of young boys in Brazil. It’s a great concept with terrific performances, but the film doesn’t hold up as well as some of its brethren. It gets a bit slow in the second half, but it’s still worth at least a watch.
- Tony Todd returns to the role that put him on the map with the Blu-ray debut of Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh. As with most horror sequels, this one isn’t as good as the well-loved original film, but it’s not terrible, either. Interestingly enough, it was directed by award-winning director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Gods And Monsters, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn.) It’s a solid sequel in a fun franchise, and now you can watch it in high def. Cool!
- Katharine Isabelle and Christopher Lloyd (?!?) star in 88 a canadian revenge thriller with an alternate timeline twist. The film is packaged well and ultimately isn’t bad, but it’s not quite the sleeper hit you want it to be. Still, it’s always good to see Lloyd make an appearance, and Katharine Isabelle isn’t exactly hard to watch.
- At first glance, you might think that Dinosaur 13 is a documentary about paleontologists discovering new kind of dinosaur or something like that. Instead, the film is a fascinating look behind the scenes of what happens when you discover the world’s most-intact Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever. The politics, red tape, wrangling, and political machinations that follow turn what should be a science documentary into a tale of intrigue and suspense. Interesting stuff.
- With the new movie coming to theaters soon, Nickelodeon releases SpongeBob SquarePants: The Pilot, A Mini Movie & The SquareShorts, which is… well, pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Go back in time ands revisit the very first episode of Spongebob Squarepants, then wash it down with an hour-long mini movie, followed by a collection of 40 shorts (which run just over half an hour, collectively.) A great collection of rarities and oddballs for Spongebob fans.
- Jake & The Neverland Pirates: Battle for the Book is a terrific new DVD collection of Disney’s hit show, with over two-hours of pirate-y goodness. This disc features a double-length special episode that features Peter Pan characters Wendy, John and Michael Darling, and on top of that, you get four bonus episodes. Kids will love this one!
- Jaime Pressley, Tobin Bell, and Steve Austin star in Finders Keepers, the latest haunted doll horror film. Not quite boasting the same production values as, say, Annabelle, this one is probably only going to appeal to die-hard horror fans. There’s not much original going on here, but admittedly I have seen worse films.
- Okay, I’ll give The Houses October Built credit for a neat concept. It’s about a group of kids trying to find the most extreme haunted houses in the country, and of course, they end up at one that’s a little too extreme. That’s not bad for a horror film, right? But then the filmmakers decided to make it a found footage film and, well, you can guess the rest. Admittedly, I’ve seen worse found footage films, but I wish this had just bee a straightforward film; it would have been much better.
- With Downton Abbey back on the airwaves, why not release Masterpiece: The Manners of Downton Abbey? That’s what PBS figured, as they’ve put out this new DVD that looks at the etiquette of the times and the real life social norms that inform the show. Rather than being a cheap cash-in, though, this program features interviews with many members of the cast of the hit show, including Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Laura Carmichael, Elizabeth McGovern, Brendan Coyle, Joanne Froggatt, and Lily James. A fun treat for Downton fans.
- A soap-opera-esque comedy show from HBO that doesn’t go for LOL-styled laughs, Looking: Season 1 is about three gay men trying to live and thrive in modern day San Francisco. Not being a gay man personally, I can’t say what life is really like for them, but this show seems to work very hard to present an honest and realistic portrayal of what it means to be gay in the 21st century. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a nice alternative to the overrated crapfest that is Girls.
- Mill Creek Entertainment has some high-profile new bargain-priced releases of well-loved TV shows. These are all shows that have been available on DVD before, but now they’re being rereleased with much lower price points, and often bundled with two seasons in the same set. Here are the new releases they have out this week: The Cosby Show: Seasons 5 & 6 (available individually or as a two-season set) and Married With Children: Seasons 7 & 8 with the original Frank Sinatra theme song reinstated (also available individually or as a two-season set). It’s hard to pass some of these up for such low, low prices.
- Sabrina: Secrets of a Teenage Witch – Magic of the Red Rose is a Valentine’s Day themed collection of episodes from the hit Hub Network TV series. I’m a huge fan of Ashley Tisdale’s animation voice over work, and she does a great job as Sabrina in this film. Plus, I have a soft spot for anything Archie-related. Sure, it’s very squarely aimed at young girls, but it’s fun for the target audience.
- Before Chris Columbus made the Harry Potter films and Mrs. Doubtfire, he made Heartbreak Hotel, a quirky comedy about a wannabe-rock-and-roller, a pink cadillac, and a kidnapped Elvis Presley. It’s kind of a goofy film (especially now, some 25 years later), but it also has its charms and is kind of fun to watch. It makes its Blu-ray debut this week.
- German art house films about dead relatives and blossoming lesbian relationships aren’t exactly mainstream fare, but if that’s up your alley, than Wolfe Video offers up Happy End. It’s actually a rather satisfying drama, but it’s not exactly easy to watch, mostly because of the foreign language and the occasionally heavy subject matter.
- Speaking of heavy foreign film dramas, Honey (Miele) is a new one from Italy directed by Valeria Golino (who you may remember as a bombshell in numerous ’80s movies, most notably Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure). It’s about a woman who helps people who are terminally ill to die, and what happens when she meets someone who wants to die but isn’t ill. Some interesting questions arise, and again, it’s intense stuff but a quality film.
- PBS offers up a number of new documentary features this week, on a wide range of topics. Rickover: The Birth of Nuclear Power is about Hyman Rickover, the father of the modern nuclear navy, and how he helped usher the US Navy into a new era. On a related topic, the excellent Navy Seals: Their Untold Story is a huge historical doc about the birth of the Navy Seals and their journey into the elite fighting force they’re known as today. Sacred Journeys With Bruce Feiler is a spiritual travel documentary series about locations that see large groups of people make pilgrimages to, featuring France, Israel, Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Japan, Southern Nigeria and The River Ganges in India. Finally, Sweet Revenge: Turning the Tables on Processed Food sees nutrition expert Dr. Robert H. Lustig talk about processed foods and how they’re going to kill you, basically. Fun stuff!
- Victoria Justice, David Spade, Josh Peck, John Lovitz, Christpher Lloyd, and Jane Lynch provide voices for Jungle Master, yet another run the seemingly endless parade of animated films from other countries that are re-voice with American casts. The story is reminiscent of Epic or Avatar, but kids might like it.
- Mill Creek offers up several new budget-riced film collections this week: The 4-in-1 Suspense Collection features Panic Room, Flatliners, Perfect Stranger, and Freedomland. Panic Room and Flatliners alone make this set worth having at this price. The 4-in-1 Action Collection sees S.W.A.T., Basic, Maximum Risk, and Stealth, all of which are perfectly watchable action thrillers. The 4-in-1 Horror Collection sees Hostel, Hollow Man, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and When A Stranger Calls. I love Hollow Man and IKWYDLS, and Hostel was a big hit. Even When a Stranger Calls is a fun PG-13 horror flick for when you’re in the mood for something easy to digest. Finally, The Robin Williams Double Feature sees two of the beloved actor’s works paired together: Jakob the Liar and Moscow on the Hudson. Clearly these are packaged together because the rights were available and part of Mill Creek’s catalog, and not for any thematic reasons, but that’s okay.
- My kids are too old to watch Caillou: Caillous Furry Friends, but younger kids will enjoy it. This is kind of your basic kids’ show. A young boy has adventures in parks and playgrounds and such, and learns lessons about everything from friendship and helping to winning and losing. Still, the low price point is a bonus looking for kids’ entertainment and this disc features an animal theme, which is great.
- Emancipation Road is a seven-part documentary series about slavery and civil rights, and it’s now available on Blu-ray for the first time. Spanning some 250 years of America’s history, the seven parts included are: Part One 1625 – 1863 The Shadows of Slavery; Part Two 1863 – 1870 The Emancipation Proclamation; Part Three 1870 – 1909 Separate But Equal; Part Four 1909 – WWII Regardless of the Color of One’s Skin; Part Five 1945 – 1963 The Double Victory; Part Six 1963 – 1968 The Civil Rights Era; and Part Seven 1968 – Today Heroes of Hope.