Out This Week: Big Hero 6, Whiplash, Horrible Bosses 2, Frank Darabont, Watership Down, & More!

BigHero6

We’ve got a great slate of releases this week, with a couple of films I’ve really loved plus a number of cult hits, direct-to-video thrillers, kids’ releases, and more. Here’s the full breakdown:

Big Hero 6

There’s not much left to say about Big Hero 6 that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll just go ahead and repeat what you’ve probably already heard: Big Hero 6 is pretty awesome. Based on an obscure Marvel Comics miniseries from several years ago, this futuristic superhero/big robot mash-up is that perfect movie that’s equally as good for kids and adults. It mixes humor, action, and heart, and at the center of it all is a marshmallow-like robot named Baymax who you can’t help but love. The animation is superb, the characters endearing, and the action sequences are spectacular. Plus, have I mentioned Baymax? This movie is a lot of fun and I’m glad to see it was such a big hit. Now you can relive it over and over again at home, and your kids (as well as the other adults in the house) will thank you for it.

WhiplashWhiplash

I realize it’s only February, but don’t consider it an understatement when I say that Whiplash is already one of my favorite movies of the year. I absolutely loved this film. J.K. Simmons’ performance is astounding and every bit worth the Oscar award he received. But without the equally-adept Miles Teller (who I’ve been a fan of for quite some time), the film wouldn’t work nearly as well. The story is simple: it’s the tale of an abusive music teacher and his potential star student. But it’s the back and forth between the two and the tribulations Teller goes through that makes the film so engaging. I know Whiplash didn’t win the Best Picture Academy Award, but it’s certainly not for lack of being deserved.

HorribleBosses2Horrible Bosses 2

I didn’t like the first Horrible Bosses, and I certainly didn’t think it needed a sequel. But it got one, and I watched it. And while I definitely didn’t like it, for some reason I did enjoy it more than the first one. (Although ‘enjoy’ is a very strong word.) I think what gives this movie the edge over the first one is Chris Pine, who proves once again that he’s one of the most underrated actors working in Hollywood today. His turn as one of the titular horrible bosses is hysterical, and it shows that he’s got a real flair for comedy. I really liked every scene he was in, and it’s definitely what makes the movie worth watching. Other than that, though, it’s really just more of the same.

FrankDarabontCollectionThe Frank Darabont Collection

This three-movie collection is missing Darabont’s non-Warner Bros. output (The Mist would have fit perfectly), but it does include The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Majestic, so it’s hard to argue. It seems silly to talk about how great The Shawshank Redemption is at this point; most movie fans will agree it’s one of the greatest movies of all time. The Green Mile is another fantastic film. Yes, it’s also a prison-set drama based on a Stephen King story, but it’s a very different film from Shawshank. For me, the revelation was The Majestic, which I had actually never seen. While I don’t love Jim Carrey as a dramatic actor (or even a comedic one), this film won me over by the end. It’s overly sentimental and a bit over-earnest (and also overlong), but I love the cast, the story is interesting, and the ending really got me. Plus, the packaging on this collection is gorgeous; you might own the films already, but this box set looks beautiful on your shelf and even more so once you open it up.

BeyondTheLightsBeyond the Lights

Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars in the music-industry drama about a starlet trying to deal with fame and fortune. On the surface, it looks like it could be Glitter 2.0, but its actually a much better film than you might expect. With Minnie Driver and Danny Glover in supporting roles, the film has a good acting pedigree, but it’s Mbatha-Raw who shines in the lead role. I’ve liked her in everything I’ve seen her in so far, and this film is no exception. It’s a solid drama in a genre that often delivers terrible movies, and it’s worth checking out.

WatershipDownWatership Down

I know a lot of people grew up with this movie, but I’m not one of them. It’s not because I never wanted to see it, it’s just one of those films that seemed to always manage to escape me. For years, all I knew was that there was this animated movie floating around about rabbits that was pretty dark in nature, but I never got around to watching it until a few years ago. of course, Watership Down is not only based on a pretty well-respected novel, but it’s also quite good. What it isn’t, however, is for kids, as this is actually a pretty bloody adventure movie that follows a group of rabbits making their way to a new home. Along the way, they encounter foxes, dogs, cats, birds, and an evil warren of militaristic rabbits, and more than few deaths occur in a fairly graphic manner. It’s not told in a kiddie style, it’s told in an adult manner, but since it was made in the pre-CGI 1970s, it’s obvious that animation was the only medium available to tell this complex and dark story. I can’t imagine what the parents of those kids I went to school with were thinking, but I’m guessing they just had no idea this was an adult movie because it was animated. Unlike today, where we regularly see adult-themed animated fare, this was pretty rare in the 70s. Still, it’s a very enjoyable film even if it’s not for kids. The new Criterion Collection edition of the film comes with a score of supplements and remastered sound and picture, making it the best version of the film by far.

NewYearsEvilNew Year’s Evil

A cult classic 1980s slasher flick, New Year’s Evil skirts the line between awful and awesome, and it’s hard to tell which side it comes down on more often. Strongly mired in the ’80s rock ‘n’ roll scene, the film is clearly dated, but that’s also part of its charm. The plot is nothing new or different, but there are some fun twists as it goes along. The kills are relatively tame, but they do get more creative as they go, and there’s a pretty fun finale involving an elevator. I’d never seen New Year’s Evil (although I’ve heard about it for years) and I enjoyed watching it, but it’s not what I’d call a great film. Still, cult horror fans will be pleased with this new inaugural Blu-ray from Shout Factory’s excellent Scream Factory imprint.

Also available on DVD & Blu-ray this week:

  • Straight-to-video stalwarts Danny Trejo and Tony Todd have supporting roles in Vanish, a thriller about a kidnapping in which the victim isn’t the pushover she’s supposed to be. What makes the film somewhat unique however, is that it’s almost entirely set inside the kidnappers’ van. While the stars listed on the cover are barely in the movie, this fun little no-frills thriller is a pretty good genre film that I enjoyed.
  • Western fans will be happy to see the Gene Autry Movie Collection 9, yet another release from the legend’s vault. This set features four fully restored films from Autry’s personal archives, including Comin’ Round the Mountain (1936), Git Along Little Dogies (1937), Man from Music Mountain (1938), and Mountain Rhythm (1939). Whereas the set before this focused on the ’40s and ’50s, this one stays squarely in the late 1930s, with each film in black and white. With as many films as Autry starred in, this collection can go for a long time, but I’m pleased to see that Timeless Media is committed to keeping these collections coming at a quick clip.
  • Oh boy, another found footage horror movie. Yay. I’ll say this for Final Prayer, I’ve seen much, much worse. This one falls solidly into the “average” category, with surprisingly decent acting and a script that isn’t bad, but it’s also a little bit dull and not terribly scary. Plus, as always, the found footage angle is completely unnecessary. Still, if you like the genre, this is one of the better offerings I’ve sat through.
  • Disney’ Jr.s popular animated series gets collected onto a new DVD with Sofia the First: The Curse of Princess Ivy. While the last DVD release of Sofia the First featured a guest appearance by Princess Ariel from The Little Mermaid, this time around we’re treated to a guest appearance by Rapunzel of Tangled (which I’m a big fan of.) Little girls should be thrilled with this latest DVD, and some parents will be, too.
  • Mountain Men: Season 3 is a semi-interesting reality show about men who live off of nature, off the grid, and how they survive and thrive. The show then takes on a survival/entertainment vibe as we follow a few of these extreme bearded wonders and see what their lives are like. Now, the show has a certain car-wreck aesthetic to it; it’s mostly people in really extreme situations, but it’s also hard to stop watching it once you’ve started. These are some truly hardcore people at work; not the kind of guys you’d want to get into a bar fight with, but some with real personalities to boot. The show’s problem lies in the repetition; after a while, watching these guys continually doing the same thing can get a little dull. 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 poorly named Zoey to the Max is a family movie starring the always-excellent Grant Bowler and Amy Smart. The story follows a young girl who’s showbiz-famous dog is kidnapped by some bumbling crooks. She then goes on a cross-country expedition to rescue him. There’s not much here for adult viewers aside from Smart and Bowler, but it’s fun enough for what it is.
  • In the past, I’ve been hard on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and largely because of the whole Brony phenomenon. But by this point, I’ve watched the show a lot, as both my young daughter AND my young son really enjoy it, and while I’m far from becoming a Brony, at least I can understand what my kids like about it. It’s humorous and smart, colorful and action-packed, and it doesn’t pander to its young audience. I’m not saying I’m suddenly a superfan, but I at least get what the kids see in it, which is something. My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Adventures Of The Cutie Mark Crusaders is the latest DVD collection of the hit show.
  • Code Black is a documentary about health care workers and the health care system, and how they can be at odds sometimes. It’s a no-holds-barred look at a serious issue facing our country, yet it manages to not be too one-sided or overtly political. This isn’t light viewing and it’s not for everyone, but if you are interested in the healthcare debate in our country, it’s worth a look.
  • Not to be confused with the Philip Seymour Hoffman/Paul Thomas Anderson movie, The Master is a direct-to0video Asian action film. It’s a pretty typical story for this kind of movie, about a man of peace who is drawn into conflict during a time of war. There’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but it’s well shot and there is some good action mixed in with the drama. Worth a look for fans of the genre.
  • And now for this week’s entry into the low-budget zombie movie category, we have Zombieworld. With cult favorite Bill Oberst Jr. the only recognizable actor in the cast, the film at least tries to do something interesting. It’s a comedy-driven vignette style film, with different short stores making up the bulk of the film. There’s a “switching channels” type of device that lets us see zombie attacks from all over the world, and again, comedy is the order of the day here. It’s an odd film, and some vignettes work better than others, but at least theres a touch of originality to it.
  • An now for this week’s entry into the teenager-with-animal-costars movie category, we have Horse Camp. Dean Cain co-stars in this family movie about a teenage girl who learns The True Meaning Of Friendship thanks to her time at horse camp. It’s one of those Dove Foundation-approved family films, but I’ve seen worse. It’s overly earnest, but it does what it does well enough, so no complaints.
  • I’m one of the few people who liked the first Green Street Hooligans, a soccer drama starring Elijah Wood and a pre-Sons of Anarchy Charlie Hunnam. I don’t know why people are negative about that movie, but I really liked it. Now we have the World’s Most Unnecessary Sequel with Green Street Hooligans: Underground, which stars action star Scot Adkins. This movie has nothing to do with the first film, especially in terms of tome or aesthetic. It’s much more of a traditional direct-to-video actioner, and it’s as bad as everyone else seems to think the first movie is.
  • PBS brings us Italian Americans, a two-disc, fur hour exploration of Italian American culture, from its beginnings in the old days of the original immigrants to the current status of the ethnic group. With interviews with luminaries such as Tony Bennett, Nancy Pelosi, Gay Talese and John Turturro, this is a lot of material to get through, but it’s a thorough examination of a culture that will be enjoyable for people who find such things interesting.
  • Shakespeare Uncovered: Series 2 is a six-episode series that’s so much more interesting than I expected. I’m not a Shakespeare fan and I never have been, but in each episode of this show, a famous actor who’s working on Shakespeare shares their experiences with The Bard and gives us some history of the work they’re presenting. And when those people include Morgan Freeman, Christopher Plummer, Joseph Fiennes, Hugh Bonneville, and Kim Cattrall, the results are pretty interesting.
  • Stephen Rea stars in Angels of Darkness, an interesting-enough thriller about curses, Carmillas, chaos, (iron) curtains, castles, and car crashes. And what’s more impressive than my alliteration is the fact that all of those things are really in this movie. The end result is a mediocre horror film that isn’t bad but isn’t great, as tends to be par for the course in this genre these days.
  • PBS’s popular show for pre-schoolers comes to DVD with Julius Jr.: Pirates and Superheroes. This one’s a bit too young for my kids, but its a cute little cartoon as far as I can tell. With a theme like pirates and superheroes, too, it’s hard to complain, as these are things that kids love, and packing them in a way that’s appropriate for pre-schoolers is a great idea.
  • PBS delivers a documentary that tells the true story of the events behind the acclaimed film Into the Wild, starring Emile Hirsch. Return to the Wild: The Chris McCandless Story is an hour-long film that tries to recreate the events leading up to his death and retrace his journey, using his own letters that have been released for the first time. It’s extremely interesting stuff, especially for those who are fans of the movie.