There are a number of solid releases this week, so whether you’re snowed in or have kids on school break to entertain, there’s something for everyone.
Dumb and Dumber To – I’ve never been a fan of the original film, but if I’ve ever seen a movie worse than Dumb and Dumber To, I can’t think of what it is. Ugh. Not only do I feel dumber for having watched it, but even the fact that I watched it solely for review purposes can’t make me feel less ashamed of myself for having seen it. It’s actually really, really, really, really, really bad. And I get that it’s a movie about stupidity, but there isn’t an ounce of intelligence in its body. You can make movies about stupid people and have smart humor. Look at Dude, Where’s My Car. Yes it’s a stupid movie, but there’s some smart, funny satire in there (believe it or not.) This movie is just abhorrent. I didn’t laugh once, but I did roll my eyes, gag, and make uncomfortable noises several times. I seriously can’t warn you stringently enough: this is 90 minutes of your life you will never, EVER get back. Ever. I need a shower.
Birdman, The Theory of Everything, St. Vincent, The Interview, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – Apparently there’s some kind of weather issues going on right now? I don’t know, but unfortunately, due to said weather issues, a number of my review copies have not yet arrived. When they do, I will update this column with reviews of Birdman, The Theory of Everything, St. Vincent, The Interview, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Believe me, I would have preferred to lead with Birdman rather than Dumb and Dumber To.
Game of Thrones: Season 4 – It’s easy to feel like you’re sick of hearing about Game of Thrones, especially if you’ve ever been on the internet. But it’s hard to deny that the show is extremely impressive. It’s like a big-budget fantasy epic film that happens to be split up into hour-long chapters. If this were a feature film, it would have been a whole trilogy and taken a decade to get to screen. As it is, we get amazing storylines, memorable characters, unyielding action, surprise plot twists, and much, much more. After a season-long wait, Season Four has finally been released on Blu-ray. As I only watch this show on disc and have to avoid spoilers all year long, it was nice to go in and find some surprises and still enjoy watching the show. Of course, the Red Wedding and the major death it entailed (no spoilers here) were hard to avoid hearing about (but soooo worth watching), but there are still some nice twists and turns along the way. While I’m not the massive obsessed fan that some people are, there’s no doubt that I really enjoy Game of Thrones. Now begins the wait for Season Five.
Life Itself – A documentary on Roger Ebert? Sign me up! Ebert was not only one of the most popular and influential movie reviewers in history, he’s one of my personal heroes as well. So this movie was a no-brainer for me, and I’m pretty sure I was predisposed to liking it. That said, however, it’s hard to deny (even if I’m attempting to be objective) that it’s a pretty fantastic film. Telling the story of Ebert’s life from his early days as a journalist through to his battle with cancer and his death, the film shares not only what made him great as a writer, but also what he was like as a person. I don’t usually love documentaries, but this one is worth the watch. What else is left to say but… TWO THUMBS UP!
The Homesman – I don’t usually go for westerns, but the trailer for The Homesman really intrigued me. I like Tommy Lee Jones a lot, and Hilary Swank can always be counted on to turn in a terrific performance. Plus, with a great supporting cast that includes James Spader, John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, Miranda Otto, and Meryl Streep (in what is essentially a cameo), I had to give it a whirl. Unfortunately, the films is dreadfully slow. The performances are terrific as expected, and Tommy Lee Jones (who also directs) has a sure hand behind the camera. But the movie has a snail’s pace and it’s 45 minutes in before the main characters even start the journey that’s supposed to be the bulk of the story. I really wanted to like this movie, and there are a few bright spots, but it’s just too slow.
Dying of the Light – Speaking of interminably dull movies, Dying of the Light is exactly that. What looked from the trailer like a solid direct-to-video action thriller is instead a tepid, dreary, and insanely boring drama about a frazzled CIA agent trying to track down The One That Got Away. But if you watch the trailer, take note that all that action they show you happens in only two scenes; the only two action scenes in the film. Cage actually isn’t bad here, and I like Anton Yelchin a lot, but if this movie was any more boring, I would have fallen asleep. A huge disappointment, and I wasn’t even expecting that much.
Animal – On the flip side of things, I had no real expectations for Animal. Basically, I’m just a sucker for creature-based horror movies, so I figure I’d suffer through another disappointment. I was pleasantly surprised, then, but just how good Animal is. Sure, this is a fairly by-the-numbers creature flick, but the performances are all better than usual for this genre, and more importantly, the filmmakers keep you guessing. I’m always excited when I watch a horror film and I can’t figure out exactly who is going to die when. And the people left standing at the end of this movie weren’t necessarily the ones I expected. That’s pretty cool. If you like good, visceral, creature horror, you have to check out Animal.
Scooby-Doo! Moon Monster Madness – The newest direct-to-video Scooby Doo movie is a pretty good one, capturing both the flavor of the original series and the more modern updated feel of the recent movies. This one plays homage to (and parodies) movies like Aliens, 2001, and many other sci-fi stalwarts, and it’s a lot of fun. This time around, the Scooby Gang end up in space due to a contest that lands them aboard a commercial spaceflight, and the of course, the ship ends up being stalked by an alien (that looks quite a bit like the xenomorphs from the Aliens franchise.) It’s never too scary, there are a lot of great jokes for kids and adults alike, and there are some talented voice actors at work. Scooby Doo fans will enjoy this one, whether they’re kids or grown-ups.
V/H/S: Viral – The third film in the horror anthology franchise that began with V/H/S, V/H/S: Viral once again presents a quartet of short horror films all strung together by a thin framing device. Unfortunately, this is the weakest entry in the series. The VHS tape idea is all but gone, replaced instead by hand-held cameras and cell phone video, and the framing device is much more intertwined in the stories. The result is a bit of a mess. None of the short films particularly stand out as anything other than mediocre, and the whole thing feels like it was rushed, rather than a film that was made to celebrate short films in horror. There’s also more of a sci-fi edge to this one, which isn’t a bad thing, but it might not be what some horror fans are looking for.
Also available on Blu-ray and DVD this week:
- Robert “Freddy Kreuger” Englund as The Phantom Of The Opera? Sounds awesome, right? Sadly, it’s not. I really was looking forward to this film, which I had never seen before, but it’s kind of terrible. There’s no heart or soul to a movie that’s supposed to be about heart and soul, and even for a glorified slasher flick, that’s bad news. Englund is in fine form, but the film is a bore.
- Mark, Donnie and that other Wahlberg return to TV for Wahlburgers: Season 2. The show brings us burgers, brothers, and Boston, although not necessarily in that order. It’s typical reality TV fare, even if it does give us a glimpse behind the scenes of the Wahlberg’s burger joints. Fun enough for what it is, but nothing great.
- The Chair: The Complete First Season could also be called Project Greenlight: Season Three. Produced by Greenlight producer Chris Moore (and with no Ben Affleck and Matt Damon this time around) the show offers two directors the same script, which each auteur has to craft into their own film. This DVD set includes all 10 episodes of the show plus both films in their entirety. I loved this show when it was Project Greenlight and I loved it still as The Chair. Great for Hollywood and reality TV junkies alike.
- The cover blurb proclaims that No Tears for the Dead‘s action scenes Rival that of The Raid 2. I don’t know if that’s accurate (although I didn’t really like The Raid 2, so maybe it is), but they’re certainly pretty good. While this is pretty standard Asian action fare, it does really shine due to said action scenes. Action junkies will enjoy this one.
- Brad “Chucky” Dourif stars in Malignant, a horror/psychological thriller about a doctor who uses unorthodox methods to cure his patients addictions… unorthodox methods that result in murder. It’s not a great film, but it at least tries to do something different, which is a nice switch for what passes for horror these days.
- The Easter Family Fun Pack: 6 Classic Favorites offers up six Easter-themed animated movies, but these are low-rent versions, not ones you’ve likely seen before: Noah’s Ark, The Ten Commandments, Prince of Egypt, and a few Easter Bunny cartoons. The animation is cheap, but so is the DVD set, offering up six films for about a buck apiece. Good if you need something to keep the kids busy.
- Olivia Williams and Matthew Modine star in Altar, a haunted house/demonic possession thriller. Once again, we’re in the realm of mediocre horror here. Actually, its slightly better than mediocre. There’s nothing original about it, but I’ve seen worse. Williams and Modine are solid leads, and the film doesn’t do anything outright bad. So that’s something.
- Before the Power Rangers there was Super Sentai Zyuranger: The Complete Series. This is the original Asian series that inspired the Power Rangers in its raw, unadulterated form. It’s wacky, over the top, and cheesy, but for adult fans of the Power Rangers (and I know there are more than a few out there), it’s an interesting look behind the history of the show. With 10 discs and 17 hours of programming, there’s a lot of bang for your buck here.
- Max & Ruby: Sweet Siblings is one of those shows that’s perfectly fine. When my kids were younger, they always sort of watched it as a last resort, really never getting all that into it. I can’t say I’ve ever been a huge fan, but I don’t dislike it, either. It is what it is, basically, and if your kids like it, this collection is worth the purchase price if you don’t have the episodes collected within already.
- Skating to New York is an interesting little film about five Canadian teenagers who decide to ice skate across Lake Ontario on the coldest day of the year. It’s a simple concept, but it works well, and the five leads have good onscreen chemistry. This is one of those movies that’s relatively harmless, but also fairly enjoyable. Connor Jessup from TV’s Falling Skies and Jason Gedrick star.
- The popular pre-schoolers show comes to DVD with Sprout show Stella and Sam: Bunny Hop. Obviously timed to Easter, the disc offers up an an hour and a half’s worth of episodes. The show has a cute animation style and fun little stories that little boys and girls (and especially siblings) will be able to relate to. Fun stuff.
- Le Pont du Nord is a 1981 film by French director Jacques Rivette. It’s one of those movies that can only be described as art house, as there isn’t so much a straightforward plot or narrative, but imagery is a key part of it. I found it intriguing, but I can’t say I loved it.
- I’m not sure where Gladiators of Rome came from or why Paramount chose to release it, but here’s a interesting little animated film for those of you who want your kids to watch Gladiator but are’t old enough. Actually, I do know where it comes from, which is Italy, but it’s been re-dubbed into English. This PG-rated CGI film follows a young man in ancient Rome who decides to become a gladiator to win the heart of a woman. Packed with action, humor, and Disney-esque moments, it’s not great but kids might enjoy it.
- American Experience: Klansville U.S.A. takes a look at the Ku Klux Klan and its reemergence in the 50s in 60s. Rather than trying to cram the entire history of the Klan into one hour, this doc focuses on its rise in North Carolina in the 50s after the historical Brown v. Board of Education court decision. I never knew that North Carolina was nicknamed Klansville, but this program goes into depth on how that happened and why. Disturbing yet fascinating stuff.
- Over the course of four discs, teen episodes, and twelve hours, The Sixties explores one of the most tumultuous and invigorating decades in American history. Produced by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, this series walks us through the decade and its most important events: The assassination of Kennedy, the Vietnam War, The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Space Race, and so much more. This is one of those documentary series that is done extremely well and provides a fascinating and engaging historical perspective.
- Nickelodeon Favorites: Springtime Adventures includes seven Spring-themed episodes of their most popular shows for youngsters. These are nice collections for younger kids because they have long running times, a variety of shows, a theme tying the episodes together, and they’re available at a budget price. This collection includes episodes of Wallykazam, Bubble Guppies, Team Umizoomi, Dora the Explorer, Blue’s Clues, and The Wonder Pets.
- In case you were worried that your pre-schooler didn’t have enough vehicle-based shows to watch, now we have Blaze & The Monster Machines: Blaze of Glory. This DVD collects the hour-long premiere episode and a bonus episode of one of Nick Jr.’s latest shows, which follows a young Monster Truck and his friends in the world of Monster Truck racing. Of course, there are learning components as well. This show is perfectly fine for the youngsters, if a bit redundant.