After last week’s behemoth of a release slate, this week doesn’t slow down much, with a good number of blockbuster hits and high quality lesser-seen films. Here’s the full breakdown:
Lucy – I so wanted to love this movie. A big hit for Universal, Lucy was kind of a surprise at the box office for some people, raking in a good amount of dough over the summer. Unfortunately, while I liked the concept and some of the action scenes, filmmaker Luc Besson tried to do too much with it, adding in some weirdly esoteric editing flourishes that really take away from the film. Scarlett Johanssen makes a good action hero, but I can’t help but think that with just a few tweaks, this could have been a much better film. Still, it’s worth at least a watch.
Annabelle – If this is what horror movies have come to these days, the genre is in real trouble. The single most interesting thing about this prequel to The Conjuring is that the lead actress in the film (the lovely and talented Annaballe Wallis) shares a name with the title of the movie. That’s it. That’s honestly the most enjoyable thing about the film. It’s incredibly boring, not even a little bit scary, and it treads ground we’ve seen a hundred times before. What’s worse is, the first five or ten minutes of the movie — which sets up the whole film — is actually relatively intense. If the movie that followed could have been half as good as that opening sequence, we might have had something here, but instead its cliche-ridden “horror” that will bore you to tears.
The Boxtrolls – About once or twice a year, I see a movie trailer to which my reaction is, “That looks like the worst movie ever.” And then, somewhere between hitting the theaters and hitting home video, I decide I really want to see it. I have no idea why it happens, but this time around, it happened with The Boxtrolls. I thought it looked terrible at first, and then I decided I was very curious about seeing it. And while it’s not terrible, it isn’t very good, either. First off, I’m not even sure who this movie is for. It looks like its aimed at kids, but there are a LOT of adult themes going on here. Plus, every single character in the movie is so creepy and grotesque looking; any kid under the age of 8 or 10 is likely to be scared by it. Ultimately, though, I just couldn’t get very wrapped up in the story or the characters, and while the stop-motion animation is very impressive, the film as a whole isn’t.
On Golden Pond – I had never seen On Golden Pond, which makes its long-awaited Blu-ray debut this week, before this disc came across my desk. I remember it being the big hit film and award-winner when I was a kid, but I’d just never gotten around to seeing it. So I tossed it in the player more out of curiosity than a burning desire to watch a movie about old people that’s over 30 years old. And I was completely blown away by it. The movie holds up incredibly well. It’s funny, poignant, charming, and dramatic. The performances by Katherine Hepburn and especially the brilliant Henry Fonda are outstanding, and the film is just magical. It’s as realistic a rumination on aging as I’ve ever seen, and I had no idea how funny it is. I can’t believe I’ve never seen this movie before, but it’s quickly jumped onto my list of favorites.
Coherence – Time for the “you’ve never heard of this but you need to see it” pick of the week. I absolutely loved Coherence. What’s it about, you might ask? Well… I can’t tell you. Not because I don’t know, but I feel like it’s one of those movies that the less you know about, the more you’ll enjoy. Let’s see, I’ll say this much: a group of thirty-and-fortysomething friends are having a dinner party at the same time as a comet is passing near earth. And then… things get weird. Seriously, that’s all you need to know. Go watch this movie. The performances are terrific (there are a few familiar faces, like Nicholas Brendon from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Elizabeth Gracen from the Highlander TV show), but the story is fascinating and the ending is a slam dunk. Do yourself a favor and check this one out before all your friends are telling you how great it is.
White Bird in a Blizzard – Also soon to be known as “the movie where Shailene Woodley gets all kinds of naked,” White Bird in a Blizzard is the latest film from director Gregg Araki, who I’m a huge fan of. His last movie, Kaboom, was an oddball comedy flick, but this is a much more grounded and moving film. Woodley plays a teenage girl whose bitter mother just up and disappears one day. Not in a menacing way, she’s just gone. The film then deals with the fallout of that disappearance on her daily life, her relationships, and her mental health. But this isn’t some weepy melodrama. Instead, it’s a sexually charged, intense, suspenseful movie that falls under the heading of drama but is much more than that. Woodley is outstanding as always, and the terrific supporting cast (Eva Green, Thomas Jane, Christopher Meloni, Angela Basset) are all excellent as well. This is another one thats really worth tracking down.
My Winnipeg – Beloved indie director Guy Maddin sees his most popular film represented here in a new Criterion Collection edition. Fully restored and remastered and loaded with extra features, this edition is a great way to experience Maddin’s whimsical film, whether it be for the first time or if you’re revisiting it. I haven’t found all of Maddin’s films to be hits for me, but My Winnipeg is a fascinating little oddity. A self-proclaimed “docu-fantasia,” the film gives us a half-true, half-not look at Winnipeg, the geographical dead center of North America. You’ll find yourself unable to determine what’s based on fact and what’s based on fiction, and that’s okay, because it’s a bizarre and unique little world you’ll find yourself swept up in anyway.
The Palm Beach Story – I’ve really been enjoying some of the classic films I’ve watched lately (mostly ones from the Criterion Collection) and so they’re new release of The Palm Beach Story was a welcome addition to my collection. Again completely restored and remastered and packed with extras, this disc was my first viewing of the film. In fact, I don’t recall ever having heard of it before Criterion announced it. But it’s a delightful romantic comedy starring Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea. Of course, it’s a Preston Sturgess film, so it should come as no surprise as to how good it is, but this is definitely one to add to your library if you’e a classic film lover. Even if you’re not, this is a good way to become one!
Wolves – David Hayter, the screenwriter of Watchmen and the first couple X-Men movies, now takes on directing as well with his filmmaking debut, Wolves. Tackling werewolves your first time out is a lofty goal, but Hayter does it extremely well. This is a film that’s interesting, engaging, action-packed, and has surprisingly good production values. Most werewolf films fall apart as soon as they characters become wolves, but the make-up effects here are actually really good. This is a fun little movie that manages to do justice to the werewolf genre, probably one of the traditionally weakest genres in all of horror filmaking.
The Zero Theorem – Christoph Waltz and Matt Damon star in Terry Gilliam’s latest film, The Zero Theorem. Despite the fact that Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys is one of my favorite films of all time, I’m not generally a huge fan of his work. The Zero Theorem sees Gilliam returning to form, visiting the bizarre and the unusual in a sci-fi setting. I mean, the film is about a computer genius named Qohen Leth who’s been ordered by Management to discover the meaning of life. You can see the Gilliam-ness shining through in just that sentence. It’s not a bad film, not a great film, but I suspect the more die-hard Gilliam fans out there will enjoy it.
Also available on Blu-ray and DVD this week:
- Billy Crudup and Anton Yelchin star in Rudderless, a charming little film about a grieving father who begins playing the songs written by his late son. Anton Yelchin plays the awkward musician who joins up with him to bring the songs to life. It’s a movie with its fair share of drama, but it also has heart and humor.
- To many, Welcome Back, Kotter: Season 2 may mean nothing more than the springboard for John Travolta’s career in the same way that 21 Jump Street launched Johnny Depp. Yet, while Travolta is clearly the star of the show, especially judging by audience reaction to his on-screen entrances, Gabe Kaplan steals every scene he is in with his expert comic timing, impressions, or even when he “gets serious.” Fans of the 70’s, high school sitcoms, or just good television in general should all either revisit or discover this excellent show. With some new extra features and three seasons that have never been available before, this is the time to do it.
- Good night, John Boy! Take a trip back to the frontier with Little House on the Prairie: Season 4 – Deluxe Remastered Edition. This is this season of the show’s first release on Blu-ray, and with its remastered and restored picture, it has honestly never looked better. Plus, it’s Little House on the Prairie. What’s not to love?
- A hit show for The History Channel is Swamp People: Season 5. This is a semi-interesting reality show about swamp hunters in the Louisiana bayous who have permission to hunt alligators for exactly 30 days out of every year. The show then takes on a Deadliest Catch vibe as we follow several crews of gator hunters as they set out to bag as many reptiles as they can in the 30-day period. The show’s problem lies in the repetition. It’s the same problem I have with shows like Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, and Ax Men: after a while, watching these guys continually slaughter alligators becomes a bit boring. It’s a decent enough show to catch once in a while if it’s on, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch an entire season of it.
- The Internet’s Own Boy tells the true story of Aaron Swarts, co-founder of Reddit and tech genius who tried to promote free speech and ended up in trouble with the government for it. Of course, there’s more to the story than that which is what this movie tries to portray. An interesting film that will definitely leave you thinking.
- A documentary that plays out like a thriller, The Green Prince tells the true story of one of Israel’s prime undercover informants during the 1990s. It’s a complex story that is highly charged and very intense, but it might not be for everyone. Still, it’s a well-made film for when you’re in the mood for something a little more heavy.
- What would it be like if Asian filmmakers decided to make a huge pirate epic? Well, now you can find out with The Pirates, a blockbuster-scaled pirate film. This is a huge movie with sword fights cannon battles, ships, and everything you’d expect to see in a pirate film. While the Pirates of the Caribbean films were big hits, this is still a woefully underrepresented genre, so this one is a lot of fun.
- Josh Hopkins, Geoff Stults, Mena Suvari, Kristin Chenoweth, Kenan Thompson, Joey Fatone, and Jennifer Finnigan star in A Bet’s a Bet. There’s a similarity to 10 Ways to Lose A Guy, but it’s a very different tone to the film that’s less straight rom-com and slightly more subversive. I think people might like this one.
- After last year’s Magic School Bus: The Complete Series collected the entire series into one massive box set, Scholastic has now started releasing single seasons of the show, which is great for parents on a budget who can’t swing a big box set. This latest release, The Magic School Bus: Season One features all the educational episodes that teach kids about all kinds of things, and my kids certainly enjoy it. It’s a fun and educational kids series that is hand-drawn and still has a nice mid-90s feel to it. And who can complain about that?
- Bill Pullman, Alia Shawkat, and Cherien Daris star in May in the Summer, a film about cultural differences that falls firmly in the “dramedy” camp. It’s got some very funny moments and some very dramatic ones, but it strikes a nice balance and is actually a pretty solid film. Again, not everyone’s cup of tea, but for people who enjoy a good familial ensemble, it’s worth checking out.
- Heather McDonald: I Don’t Mean to Brag is a solid stand-up set from the shockingly-tall Heather McDonald. She covers the usual topics you’d expect to see: sex, parenthood, marriage, but her jokes are sharp and her performance — if a bit over-the-top at times — is pretty funny. Not the best stand-up I’ve ever seen, but I liked it more than I expected to.
- In case you thought there were any subjects not yet covered in documentaries, along comes Dick: The Documentary, which is about — yes — penises. Filmmaker Brian Fender invited 63 men from their 20s to their 80s to strip down naked and discuss their relationships with their penises. The stories range from funny to poignant, but this is ultimately a film with naked guys talking about their members. It might not be for everyone.