After things slowed down for the holidays, this week is the biggest slate of new releases we’ve seen in months. There is literally something for everybody this week! Here’s what’s on tap:
Gone Girl –
Already lauded with tons of critical acclaim, I don’t have much to add to the discussion other than to say that I loved the book Gone Girl and I loved David Fincher’s adaptation. I was extremely curious how he was going to pull off the dual-narrator style of the book, and he did so perfectly. And while Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike (whom I’ve been a fan of for years) deserve all the critical acclaim and awards talk they’ve received, there are two people who have gone criminally under-noticed: Carrie Coon as Margo Dunne and Kim Dickens as Detective Rhonda Boney. Honestly, if both of them don’t receive Best Supporting Actress nominations at the Oscars, I’m going to be very disappointed. Affleck and Pike carry the film, but without these two actresses in major supporting roles, the film wouldn’t have been nearly as good. When you watch the film for the second time (because surely you’ve seen it already, right?), keep an eye out for their amazing performances.
Liam Neeson stars in Taken 2.5 — I mean A Walk Among the Tombstones — a dark and gritty thriller that is all dark and grit and very little heart or character. I like Neeson as an action hero, I just wish he’d choose better movies to exercise his skills in. A Walk Among the Tombstones isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not great. However, it does have Dan Stephens in a supporting role, and he’s one of my favorite actors right now, so that’s a plus.
Long before The Facts of Life was the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question about George Clooney, it was one of the most popular sitcoms of the 80’s. The new The Facts Of Life: The Complete Series box set is a terrific way to go back and revisit the show that might have been a huge part of your childhood. But be prepared, there are probably things about the show you might not remember. I barely remember the fact that the show was a spin-off of Diff’rent Strokes, but I absolutely in no way remember that the show had almost a completely different cast in the first season. Yes, while Blair, Tootie, and Natalie were in the cast, Jo was nowhere to be seen, and there were about five or six other regular girls, including a very young Molly Ringwald. Any of this ringing a bell? I didn’t think so. It was at the start of the second season that the show transformed into what we would come to know and love over the next several seasons. Watching the first 13 episodes is fascinating, if also a little bit painful; the show really wasn’t very good in the beginning. But when the second season starts and the cast is streamlined, it starts to gel a little bit and improve somewhat. Comedy ages poorly in many cases, and a lot of the jokes are quite dated (“My Jordache jeans are your Jordache jeans,” was a real eye-opener.) The Facts of Life was a fact of life for just about anybody who grew up in the 80’s; I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who couldn’t sing (or at least hum) the opening song. While the show hasn’t aged all that well, there are glimmers of what made it so popular here. The show did tackle some decently After School Special-type topics, such as teenage sex, shoplifting, teen marriage, and even homosexuality, so it wears its morals on its sleeves, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Still, despite all the flaws, it’s still a fun show and a great nostalgia trip, and this set will make many fans happy.
This taut little sci-fi suspense film stars Game of Thrones‘ Rose Leslie and Penny Dreadful‘s Harry Treadaway. It’s an intense and creepy film that focuses almost entirely on a couple on their honeymoon at a secluded cabin in the woods. When Bea sleepwalks into the woods one night, she begins to change, and it’s a journey into paranoia and confusion from there. The performances by Leslie and Treadaway are terrific and the film is paced just right, even if I found the ending a little bit too ambiguous (as these types of movies a lost always are.) Still, it’s a neat little horror film for fans of movies like Bug or Black Rock.
Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and Oscar Isaac star in The Two Faces of January. The cover art boasts that it’s from the producer of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the author of The Talented Mr. Ripley, and the writer of Drive, three films that I like but do not love. And while I was initially enthralled by The Two Faces of January, it petered out a little as the film went along. So the end result? You guessed it. It’s a film that I like but don’t love. Solid, interesting, Hitchcockian, and with terrific performances from all three leads (when did Kirsten Dunst become a good actor?) this is one worth checking out but not exactly repeat viewing material.
John Lithgow and Alfred Molina turn in award-worth performances in the critically acclaimed Love is Strange, a film about a longtime gay couple who have to readjust their lives when one of them loses their job because of their relationship. It’s an extremely charming little movie, with realistic characters, smart dialogue, situations that reflect what people really deal with, and — of course — two really amazing performances. Even if you’ve seen Lithgow and Molina in every type of role imaginable, you haven’t seen them like this yet. Check it out!
Outkast’s Andre Benjamin plays the legendary guitarist in the year leading up to his breakthrough in the 60s in this biopic. And while Benjamin’s not an experienced actor, he’s actually pretty amazing here. I forgot that I was watching an actor and felt like I was watching Hendrix from pretty much the minute the film started. That said, I wish the film itself was better. The director decided to constantly intersperse quick snippets of vintage footage from the time period like some kind of music video, but instead of setting the period, it’s just distracting and annoying. Still, the film is enjoyable overall, and supporting roles by Imogen Poots and Haley Atwell don’t hurt, either.
I love, love, love this movie. Chances are good, however, that you’ve never even heard of it. I hadn’t heard of it until it came out on DVD a few years ago. Now there’s a new Blu-ray edition, which I couldn’t be happier about. Capricorn One is a really great film, fueled by ‘70’s paranoia themes, about a fake moon landing and what happens when the government tries to cover it up by killing off the astronauts involved. This is the type of movie that would fit well alongside other great films such as The Parallax View, The Conversation, and Three Days of the Condor. If I have one complaint with the film, it’s that the ending is a little abrupt. I would have liked just a little more follow-up in terms of what happened to some of the key players, but aside from that I was thoroughly enthralled by this film for its entire two-hour running time. With strong lead performances by James Brolin, Hal Holbrook, and Elliot Gould, I’m surprised that this film not only wasn’t a hit, but is kind of an obscure movie all around. Do yourself a favor and track this one down (and ignore that terrible new cover art.) Capricorn One is one of those rare little catalog gems that pops up out of nowhere and is a lot better than you’d expect it to be.
The lesser known sibling of Gerry Anderson’s hit puppet show, Thunderbirds, Stingray took to the sea instead of the air, following the adventures of the crew of a high tech submarine. This 50th anniversary collection includes the entire series, all 39 episodes, filled with Anderson’s patented Supermarionette techniques and all the cheesy sci-fi goodness you can handle. If you’re not already a fan, these episodes can be kind of hard to watch, but for those who love Anderson’s style of television, this collection is all a fan can ask for.
When you’re Werner Herzog and you’re filming a movie about men pulling a steamship over a mountain, what else is there to do but actually pull a steamship over a mountain? That’s the question asked (and answered) in Fitzcarraldo, a fascinating movie that is now being released on Blu-ray for the first time. I’ve never been an overwhelmingly huge Herzog fan, but I can certainly appreciate many of his movies, and this is one of his better ones, anchored by an inspired performance from longtime Herzog collaborator Klaus Kinski. The spectacle of the film makes it worth watching, even if the running time is just a bit too long.
I remember seeing Supernova when it came out in theaters in the mid ’90s. It had been a controversial release because acclaimed director Walter Hill had removed his name from the film due to creative conflicts with the studios. I remember it being not very good and, of course, it also bombed at the box office. I was excited when Shout Factory announced this new Blu-ray edition, because I like to revisit films like this and see if they’re any better than I remember them. The disappointing thing is, the second half of the film is actually a pretty good serial-killer-in-space flick. But the first half of the film is pretty bad, and that’s hard to get past. I like the ending, though, and the alternate ending included in the extra features is even better. Not as bad as you remember, but not as good as it could be, Supernova is more interesting to check out to learn about all the behind-the-scenes battles and to get glimpses of the film that could have been.
I’ve never been a terribly big Mythbusters fan. It’s not because I don’t like the concept of the show or what they prove and disprove. Rather, my issue with the show mostly comes down to the hosts, both of whom I dislike severely. That being said, there are some fun segments on the show, and it’s cool to learn about the truth behind many myths. This new collection isn’t a complete series box set, but it does include 50 episodes hand-picked by the cast of the show, along with some cool extra features. So fans of the show should find quite a lot to like here.
This is an odd little release. It collects extended editions of the first three Twilight films (mostly just adding back in deleted scenes), but not the last two films, which have had extended editions released already. I guess if they added those n too it would just make this a complete series box set, which already exists, but I guess this is for people who already own the extended editions of the final two films but not the entire box set, More likely, it’s just a way for Lionsgate to grab some extra cash from one of their biggest cash grab while they’re waiting for the next Divergent and Hunger Games films to fill their pockets.
The 4400‘s Joel Gretsch headlines what should be an awful SyFy channel TV movie that ends up being surprisingly good. There’s a pretty typical plot line about the end of the world being signaled by natural disasters that are foretold by a zodiac sign from ancient times, but amazingly, it’s still pretty enjoyable. The film almost gets derailed by some dodgy special effects, but a halfway decent script and Gretsch’s natural screen charisma carry the film along nicely. And Christopher Lloyd even shows up in a cameo role as a reclusive billionaire. Fun!
Also available on Blu-ray and DVD this week:
- Martin Scorsese produced Revenge of the Green Dragons, a based-on-true-events movie that chronicles the rise of one of New York’s most notorious street gangs. Even though Ray Liotta’s cover is plaster call over the front cover, he’s really just got a small supporting role. The film is extremely dark and violent, so it’s not for everyone, but I suspect that most fans of Scorsese’s earlier films will enjoy it.
- Yes, with The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power, there are now officially more Scorpion King films than there are The Mummy, Back to the Future, or Ghostbusters movies. Just let that sink in for a minute. But I can see why Universal keeps churning them out. You throw together some MMA fighters, some skimpily-clad hot chicks, terrible dialogue and enough action to make things interesting, and you end up with a movie that can be made on the cheap and that people want to see. Fair enough, even if they’re mostly rubbish.
- Daniel Day Lewis first took the acting world by storm with the award-winning My Left Foot, and it’s easy to see why in this Blu-ray release of the film, its first in high def. Watching the film now, there’s no mistaking why Lewis won the Academy Award for best actor; it’s a powerhouse performance of intensity and inner turmoil. It’s probably been a long time since you’ve watched this film, and this new Blu-ray is the perfect way to revisit it.
- The hit Showtime series returns to DVD with Episodes: The Third Season, and Matt LeBlanc returns to television with it. This comedy series, which focuses on a British writing duo who are gobsmacked by Hollywood when Matt LeBlanc gets cast in the US remake of their highbrow comedy, is at its funniest when LeBlanc is on screen. He plays a hyper-realized version of himself, maximized for laughs, but in a different way than his Joey on Friends. The biggest problem with the show for me is that the main characters, the British couple, are kind of shrill, and its hard to warm up to them. And that’s not a great reaction to have to the main characters of a show. Still, as the show goes on, it gets better, so by this third season, hopefully you’ve had more time to grow to like it.
- House of Lies: Season Three is a winning series from Showtime that stars Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell as “management consultants.” They travel from big business to big business and help (swindle?) them, all under the guise of making companies (but also themselves) millions of dollars. The show took a while to get going for me, but by the third season I’m officially hooked. The cast is terrific; Don Cheadle is always great, while Kristen Bell adds her own brand of charm, and the supporting actors (most of which aren’t “name” talent) are all really good as well. Plus, the show is razor sharp, rather than pandering to the lowest common denominator.
- While it seems like TNT’s return to Southfork has been a pretty big hit for the network, Dallas: Season 3 was the show’s last. Despite returning favorites such as the late, great Larry Hagman and onetime heartthrob Patrick Duffy, plus a new cast of soapy, attractive young actors, the show played right into the demographic that loves shows like the original Dallas and the current hit Revenge. This final season tries to wrap up what it can, so fans of the show who want to complete their collections should grab it now.
- Even at the end, Boardwalk Empire is fantastic. It’s the show as a whole that excels here; even with the fine performance by Steve Buscemi in the lead role, the ensemble cast really brings the world of early 20th-century Atlantic City to life. The show also manages to employ an equal number of likable and unlikable characters; not everyone is a bastard who we’re supposed to care about “just because,” as happens on so many “mature” shows these days. This is a great series, and I’m glad to see it was a big hit for HBO while it lasted.
- The unfortunately named Sarah Snook stars in Jessabelle, a new horror film not be confused with recent theatrical hit Anabelle. This southern gothic horror film benefits from strong performances from Snook and Joelle Carter (Justified) and Mark Webber (Laggies). Unfortunately, it suffers from the fact that it does absolutely nothing new or interesting with the horror genre and I guarantee you’ve seen this movie before.
- The History Channel’s hit show gets collected on DVD and Blu-ray with the newest release, Ancient Aliens: Season 6, Volume 2. Learn more about how aliens may have visited the earth in ancient times, and how that may tie in to some of today’s phenomena in this interesting show.
- Ray Liotta, Seth Green, Ashley Judd, and Joe Pantoliano co-star in The Identical, a family-friendly film about a preacher’s son who wants to become a rock and roll star. There’s nothing objectionable in this film anywhere, except maybe for being a bit vanilla. That said, I’ve seen way worse in the family/faith categories.
- The latest collection of the current version of two classic characters comes to DVD in The Tom and Jerry Show Season One Part Two: Funny Side Up. Did you catch all that? Basically, you get new Tom & Jerry cartoons, which are a lot of fun. Not only do they feel modern but also classic at the same time, but there are voices by Jason Alexander, Simon Helberg, Gary Cole, and Chris Parnell.
- Okay, so if phrases like “After the conclusion of the Battle City Finals, chaos erupts once again!” and “The three Egyptian God Cards are stolen,” mean anything to you, then you probably want to pick up Yu-Gi-Oh 5DS: Season 1. You know, for the kids. Riiiight… for the kids. You know who you are.
- SpongeBob SquarePants Triple Feature: 10 Happiest Moments, Heroes of Bikini Bottom & Legends of Bikini Bottom is exactly what it sounds like: A triple feature that includes three previously released discs of under-the-sea goofiness. Clocking in at over four hours, though, this is a great release for parents who have kids jonesing for more Spongebob but who don’t want to break the bank on a ton of DVDs.
- The Adventures Of Chuck And Friends: Rev Your Engines is the newest DVD collection of the Hub show Chuck & Friends. This is a pretty cool show for young ones, and while both my kids used to like it, they’ve grown out of it a bit (it’s more for pre-schoolers.) it. Clearly in the mold of similar shows such as Roary the Racing Car and Chuggington, this one follows a group of trucks — all kinds of trucks. There are monster trucks, construction trucks, sports trucks, and plain old trucks trucks, and that’s pretty cool.
- Continuing the unlikely but winning pairing of Dennis Franz with Ricky Schroeder, NYPD Blue: Season 8 continues the show’s solid run of police procedurals. You get all 22 episodes and guest appearances by Ricardo Chavira, Denise Crosby, Greg Grunberg, Kerry Washington, Nick Offerman, Taryn Manning, and Eric Balfour, so fans should be happy to have another season on their shelves.
- If sweeping period pieces are your thing, then the remastered anniversary edition of Masterpiece: The Jewel in the Crown should be right up your alley. Filmed almost entirely in India and comprised of 14 episodes, this epic award-winning series is full of drama, intriguing characters, lavish scenery, and strong performances.
- Because they’ve run out of ways to regurgitate and repackage the existing episodes of Duck Dynasty, Lionsgate has now released Duck Commander: Before The Dynasty, which serves as a sort of prequel to the show. I’ll admit, it’s a good (and cheap) buy for fans, but I’m over this clan.
- Middle of Nowhere is the previous film from Ava DuVernay, the acclaimed director of the current theatrical hit Selma. This film also stars David Oyelowo and visits similar themes, although in a modern setting and not based on historical events. It’s a solid drama with terrific performances, and you can see DuVernay’s talent at work here in her debut.
- Super WHY!: Jack and the Beanstalk and Other Fairytale Adventures is another fun cartoon that my kids used to enjoy when they were younger. The show focuses on a team of super readers (kind of like kid superheroes) whose mission usually involves some kind of reading/letter activities. This DVD follows the usual formula of using fairy tales and classic story tropes to teach kids how to read and comes with a little puzzle for the young ones.
- A futuristic city populated with super-powered students? Sign me up. Despite the unwieldy name (I think it’s longer than the movie itself), A Certain Magical Index: The Movie – The Miracle of Endymion is a fun slice of anime that doesn’t fall into too many of the traps that most anime I don’t like does.
- Marcello Mastriani and Burt Lancaster star in The Skin, an impressive film that focuses on the aftermath of the German occupation of Italy during WWII and the Allied liberation that follows. This isn’t an action-packed war film, but rather a drama that explores life after war.
- Bad Turn Worse teas a tried-and-true indie film formula and adds William Devane and Mark Pellegrino to it for a film that’s not half bad. Three hard-partying teenagers end up in debt to a criminal and are forced to commit other crimes to pay off their debt. And of course, as the title implies, things get worse from there. Not the most original film ever, but enjoyable overall.
- Remember how we landed a probe on a comet a few weeks ago? Well, now you can learn all about how in To Catch a Comet, the first of several new PBS releases this week. It’s fascinating stuff whether you’re a science geek or not. Great Estates of Scotland, meanwhile, takes us on a tour of a handful of truly amazing buildings and their history in Scotland. Nature: Invasion of the Killer Whales reveals that Killer Whales are apparently taking over as the dominant predator in the arctic, replacing Polar Bears as the big threats to wildlife in that part of the world. This is a far cry from Shamu, and it’s very interesting stuff. Nature: A Sloth Named Velcro is moving story of a woman who takes in a sloth and then has to reintroduce it to the wild. It gives us a nice personal story and also a larger look at sloths in general.
- Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis? is not an easy film to watch, but it’s an important one. It deals with autism, mental health, and health care, and in an almost unprecedented move, the filmmakers were following the movie’s subject for months before he was killed, with no idea of what was going to happen. You have to be in the right mood to watch this, but it will have an impact on you.
- Directed by Academy Award®-winning director Alex Gibney, Finding Fela tells the true story of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s life, music, and social and political impact. Sadly, I had never heard of him before this film, but I guess that’s why it needed to be made. It’s interesting stuff, and he was quite a fascinating and important person.
- Despite a solid cast that includes Brendan Fehr, Erin Cummings, Nick Sandow, Tony Sirico, Burt Young, Zarra’s Law is your typical revenge drama/thriller, treading very familiar ground. It’s not bad, not great, not original… it’s basically everything you’d expect from a direct to video movie.
- Featuring the unlikely pairing of Gerard Depardieu and Elizabeth Hurley, Viktor is another revenge thriller, this time based on a criminal father trying to avenge his son’s death. It’s a different kind of role for Depardieu, who attacks it with relish, and the end result is a surprisingly engaging film.