While this week isn’t exactly the biggest in terms of sheer number of releases, man are there some good movies out this week. Plus, it’s my Mom’s birthday! Happy Birthday, Mom! Here’s the full breakdown:
The Judge –
One of the best dramas I’ve seen in a long time, The Judge is the kind of movie they just don’t make too often any more. High on star power, the film stars Robert Downey Jr. as the high powered lawyer who must defend his aging — and extremely estranged — father, who’s a well-respected small-town judge. Downey and Duvall are both at the top of their game, and the supporting cast (Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dax Shepard, Billy Bob Thornton, and Leighton Meester) are all terrific as well. The movie is high on character drama and emotion but also squeezes in some legal thrills, and it just works on every level. Great script, terrific performances, realistic characters, and a good story combine to make The Judge a real winner. Definitely check this one out.
While I’d love to say you’ll like Fury even if you don’t care for war movies, I don’t think that’s entirely true. What I can say is that even if you just casually enjoy a good war film, Fury is worth watching. The story of a tank and its crew at the end of World War II, this sometimes claustrophobic tale is much more Saving Private Ryan than it is Pearl Harbor. It’s intense, action-packed, thoughtful, and — at times — difficult to watch, but I mean that in a good way. It explores the horrors of war without glossing over them. The cast is fantastic and there are a few surprises in there, as well. Shia Lebeouf reminds us all that he actually can be a good actor, and Logan Lerman — who I’ve been a fan of since he was a child actor — is shaping up to be one of the finest young actors working today. I really enjoyed Fury, and I think most action film fans will too.
When I first saw the trailer for the Guillermo del Toro-produced The Book of Life, I honestly thought it looked like the worst movie ever. The only reason I ended up seeing it was because I was invited to a press screening of it and Channing Tatum was there for press Q&A. (How do you turn that down?) So I hunkered in for what I expected to be an interminable 90 minutes, and instead I found myself utterly charmed by this completely original animated film. Funny, exciting, romantic and visually stunning, The Book of Life is simply terrific. Channing Tatum’s character is one of the funniest animated heroes in years, and the entire film just feels like something you’ve never seen before, which is increasingly rare in this day and age. Don’t judge this film by the trailer; it’s so much better than that.
The newest direct-to-video DC Universe animated movie introduces Aquaman to the Justice League. It’s based on comic book superstar Geoff Johns’ graphic novel of the same name, and they couldn’t have picked a better source material. This story sees Aquaman discover who he is and try and bridge a peace between the surface world and Atlantis, which is being manipulated into war. Add in Superman, Batman, Wonder Womna, Green Lantern, Flash, and Cyborg, and you’ve got one heck of a fun ride. Plus, as usual, the disc is loaded with extra features, including four Aquaman-centric classic DC cartoons. Sweet!
The monster hit show returns to Blu-ray, and if you’re a fanatic like me, you won’t want to wait for the show to finish airing on TV; you’d rather rush out and buy the Blu-ray and binge watch it. Yes, I have seen this entire season of Downton Abbey before it’s aired thanks to this home video release, and I couldn’t be happier. The only downside is that the wait for the next season is that much longer! Season Five doesn’t see too many major upheavals, but instead continues moving the story along at its natural progression. Sex is much more at the forefront, however, reflecting the real life societal changes that were going on at the time. As always, the cast is excellent, the writing is stellar, and the show remains one of the very best things on TV.
Elijah Wood and former porn star Sasha Grey (can we please stop casting her in real movies?!?) star in Open Windows, a thriller from acclaimed director Nacho Vigalondo. I really loved Vigalondo’s first film, Timecrimes, but I was left cold by his follow-up, Extraterrestrial. This one is his first non-sci-fi film, and it tries to be something of an update on Rear Window for the 21st century crowd. Wood plays a fan who gains access to video cameras in his favorite actress’s home, but what he begins to watch takes a turn for the dangerous. It’s not a bad film at all, although it plays out like it’s really on a computer screen: filled with pop-ups, multiple windows inside the screen, and so on. It’s somewhat akin to a found footage movie, although a little different. It’s certainly an interesting film, and overall I enjoyed it.
Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith, and Kristin Scott Thomas star in one of those films that got little attention but is a cute little gem. Kline plays a man who inherits a house (more of a mansion) in France but can’t evict the tenants who are living there, namely Smith and Thomas. So he moves in. As one does. Of course, what happens next is pretty predictable, but the trio of Kline, Smith, and tHomas are completely irresistible, and the film nicely blends humor and charm with strong characters and sharp dialogue, plus a little drama. It’s not Friday night popcorn fare, but for people who like quieter, more thoughtful films, this one will fit the bill nicely.
A supernatural end-of-the-world thriller with a message of faith throughout, The Remaining is actually a pretty good film. Produced by Affirm Films, who specialize in faith-based movies, this one doesn’t skimp on the action, horror, or special effects. While there’s no denying the faith message throughout, you can watch the movie as someone who just likes supernatural thrillers and enjoy it completely. Alexa Vega and The Last Ship‘s excellent John Pyper-Ferguson star along a cast of mostly unknowns, but the movie has its fair share of thrills, scary moments, cool special effects, and end-of-the-world freakiness. I really enjoyed it, even on the few occasions where the message about faith gets heavy handed. At least in a film about The Rapture, it doesn’t seem out of place.
The excellently titled Why Don’t You Play in Hell? can be summed up as The Yakuza versus a film crew, but that’s like summing up Star Wars as a movie about a boy and his robot. There is so much more going on here, it’s not even funny. This is a solidly word, over-the-top film that features no small amount of violence and action. The movie starts off with a number of splintered story lines, but once things come together, that’s when it all kicks into overdrive. This definitely isn’t a film for everyone, but for people who really enjoy some of the more bizarre and offbeat efforts coming out of Asian filmmaking right now, this might be your new favorite film.
Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:
- Maria Bello and Ann Dowd star in Big Driver, a Lifetime TV movie adapting a Stephen King novel. Yes, you read that right. It’s a very odd mix, and it doesn’t feel much like other stuff that Lifetime has traditionally done. Still, as far as revenge/horror movies go, it’s pretty good considering that it’s made for TV. I’d recommend this more to horror fans than to Lifetime fans, just know that you’re not getting over the top violence and gore here.
- A fascinating documentary about the world’s most pre-eminent art forger, Art and Craft focuses on Mark Landis, who doesn’t sell his impeccable forgeries… he gives them away as endowments. It’s an extremely interesting tale of a man who isn’t exactly committing a crime, but has the art world extremely upended anyway.
- My Little Pony: The Movie (30th Anniversary Edition) is the classic ’80s movie version of the popular toy line. Surprisingly, this one features voices from Tony Randall, Danny DeVito, Madeline Kahn, and Cloris Leachman, which gives adults something fun to listen for. It’s not quite the same as the current Friendship is Magic show, so kids who are already hooked on that might find it a bit different, but it’s warm and fuzzy and cute and friendly, so there’s not much to complain about.
- If you’re looking for a double feature of French dramas from 1986, then the new Blu-ray of Jean De Florette/Manon Of The Spring will fit the bill perfectly. Both films are dramas that bleed over slightly into thriller territory, although Manon of the Spring takes the edge for me. Admittedly, that’s probably because of the incredibly beautiful Emmannuelle Beart in the lead role, but hey, an edge is an edge.
- Fans of Shakespeare will be thrilled to see that Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V is finally making its Blu-ray debut. Branagh is to Shakespeare what Spielberg is to filmmaking in general; nobody does it better than him. Here, he not only directs but also tackles the lead role, and the result is a stellar adaptation of one of the Bard’s most well-loved works.
- Sofia Black D’Ella headlines the straight-to-video actioner Born of War, and the fact that it has a female leading role as an out-an-out action film is a welcome thing. If only the movie itself were better. This is what happens when you try and make an action movie on a terribly low budget: you get a pretty bad film. Sigh.
- Vicki Lawrence returns to DVD with Mama’s Family: Mama’s Favorites – Season 4. The hit show was released last year in a mage-huge box set, and the seasons have been priced individually and more affordably as well. This set is sort of a greatest hits repackaging of some choice Season 4 favorites, but are there really that many people out there clamoring for more ways to get Mama’s Family on DVD?
- Man, I really don’t get most of what Cartoon Network is doing these days. Take the Regular Show – Mordecai Pack, for example. The show just seems like everything else Cartoon Network is doing these days: being weird for the sake of being weird. I’m not a fan of that. Overall, I guess I can see how there’s an audience for this show. I mean, if people like Adventure Time, I guess they’ll like anything. But this is another Cartoon Network show that is just not for me.
- Suze Orman’s Financial Solutions for You sees the popular financial guru hit the home video market to teach us how to manage our money. Judging by my bank account, I can use her help. What I like about this special is that it isn’t just about crunching numbers; it deals with the motional side of spending and saving money and brings it down to a relatable, human level. A worthwhile purchase for people who’d like a little more financial independence.
- Just in time for this week’s Downton Abbey release, we also get Arthur: Fountain Abbey, which sees the popular children’s cartoon parodying the hit show. It’s actually pretty funny, and while kids won’t catch some of the jokes, it’s perfectly good for children, but this time there are a few nods for the adults as well. There are also a few other episodes that aren’t related, but overall, this is a fun little DVD release.
- If you’re a huge Studio Ghibli or Hayao Miyazaki fan, you will definitely want to check out Kingdom of Dreams & Madness. This documentary goes behind the scenes of the studio that’s famous for works such as Princess Mononoke, The Wind Rises, Spirited Away, and Kiki’s Delivery Service, among many others. Personally, I’m not a fan of Ghibli’s works, but this is still a pretty interesting and insightful look at one of the most successful movie studios working today.
- You would think that a movie with James Franco, Jessica Chastain, Zach Braff, and Mila Kunis might have gotten some attention, but Color of Time got zero press whatsoever. That’s probably because it isn’t very good. When you try and base a narrative film on a collection of poetry, the end result is something like this. Which isn’t a compliment.
- Cinedigm continues its releases of popular telenovelas for the Spanish-speaking audience with Mas Negro Que La Noche (Blacker Than Night). This one, however, is a movie as opposed to a TV show. This remake of 1975 Mexican horror film was released in 3D in theaters (but it isn’t on disc), and it’s an oddball little film, with a series of events thrown into motion by the drowning of a cat. Good for the target audience, I guess.