It’s a pretty big slate of releases this week, with a heavy emphasis on kids’ titles (guess the studios keep track of those school breaks, huh?) Here’s the full breakdown:
Jake Gyllenhaal is mesmerizing (and should have been nominated for an Academy Award) in the lead role of Nightcrawler, the story of a driven and somewhat desperate man who becomes a “nightcrawler,” that is someone who tries to get to all the crime scenes first so he can videotape them and sell them to news stations. Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is fascinating: intelligent, persistent, creepy, amoral, manipulative, but all in a way that makes you never want to take your eyes off of him. The film is a fantastic look into a world most people probably know nothing about, and it skates the line between drama and thriller terrifically. I highly recommend checking this movie out; I loved it.
The beloved Disney classic (and one of my personal favorites from the Disney oeuvre) makes its debut on Blu-ray this week. I don’t know how you can not love Pongo, Perdita, and Cruella De Vil, so I’m just going to assume that you love them as much as I do. The film has been meticulously restored and remastered and it looks and sounds terrific, making this the very best way to watch and rewatch a true classic. Filled with great music, lots of action, terrific humor, and more cute puppies than you can shake a stick at, there’s never been a better time to own 101 Dalmatians.
I wish this movie had been bad, because it would be so easy to sum this movie up by calling it Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Movie. Bam! Review done! But it’s not bad, it’s cute. Squarely aimed at kids, the film has some good broad humor and plenty of funny moments, all mixed together with a healthy dose of message-y Disney cheese. I wish the lead kid didn’t have such terrible speech (seriously, can we stop putting kids in movies that have lisps because it’s “cute”?), but the rest of the cast is good. I didn’t even mind that Jennifer Garner is in the film, and that’s saying something.
Journalistic thrillers are one of my favorite film genres, but good ones are few and far between. I’m pleased to report, then, that Kill the Messenger definitely falls into the “good” camp. The film (based on a true story) tells the story of the journalist from a mid-sized newspaper who discovers a tie between the US Government and the drug cartels in the middle of the War on Drugs, and the ensuing craziness as he tries to reveal the story. Jeremy Renner is terrific in the lead role, and there’s an amazing supporting cast that includes Rosemary DeWitt, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Platt, Robert Patrick, Paz Vega, Michael Sheen, and Ray Liotta. This is another one that’s worth checking out, and actually makes a great double feature with Nightcrawler.
Jon Stewart took a hiatus from The Daily Show to write and produce this movie, another journalistic thriller (although it’s more of a drama) based on a true story. Here, Gael Garcia Bernal stars as an Iranian journalist who is arrested by the Iranian government after filming and reporting on the civil unrest there in 2009. It’s a solid film, and Stewart has a sure hand in both writing and directing, but it’s not a slam dunk. Maybe I’m just burned out on Middle East stories, but I didn’t find this as compelling as Kill the Messenger, despite an excellent performance by Bernal.
Laggies may be a smaller film than most of what comes to multiplexes, but it’s actually a charming little movie.It’s a film about an aimless twentysomething who, through circumstances too complicated to relay here, ends up living in the home of a 16-year-old girl she befriends (along with the girl’s single father.) Nothing that happens next is terribly original or surprising, but the film works thanks to its terrific cast. Keira Knightley, Sam Rockwell, and Chloe Grace Moretz are all in top form here, and there’s an ease and charisma that the three of them share that makes you want these characters to get their happily ever afters. The film’s script works surprisingly well, too. While not particularly plot heavy, the dialogue manages to be fun yet somewhat realistic at the same time. If you like character-driven films that aren’t too challenging, Laggies fits the bill. Like I said, it doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before, but if you like comfortable, familiar films, this one will be right up your alley.
What a mess. If you watch the trailer for Predestination, you’ll think, “Wow, this looks like a really cool time travel thriller!” You will be wrong. What you will get, however, is a languorous, dull, confusing (yet surprisingly predictable) movie that has to rank as one of the biggest disappointments in my recent memory. The fact that the film was written and directed by The Spierig Brothers (who also created the underrated vampire thriller Daybreakers) makes it even worse, because now they’ve dropped from my “hot newcomers” list and landed squarely on my “we’ll have to wait and see if Daybreakers was a fluke” list. I wasn’t just disappointed by Predestination, I actively disliked it. Even if you’re intrigued by the trailer, go rent Daybreakers instead. You’ll thank me.
I can almost just cut and paste my review of Predestination above into this slot and the result would be the same. The Lookalike is another thriller with a great trailer that ends up being a big disappointment. What starts off as a cool premise (drug dealers need to find a lookalike for a girl who is integral to a huge deal when she is accidentally killed) quickly devolves into a convoluted mess. Not one but two romantic subplots bog things down, and there are just so many plot threads and contrivances that what could have been a cool film falls apart by the end. It’s not terrible; I’d say it’s watchable, but not much more than that. But Gillian Jacobs shines here and makes a case for why she’s going to be one of the next big breakout actresses.
Joss Whedon wrote this indie dramedy that stars Zoe Kazan and tells a supernatural-ish story of a lonely wife and an ex-con who discover they can feel what the other person is experiencing and communicate from across the country. The film was actually made about three or four years ago and has been sitting on the shelf since then, which usually isn’t a good sign. But it’s actually a pretty good film, if nothing overly exciting. What’s most interesting is that it lacks a lot of signature Whedonism; except for the concept itself, the script isn’t written in his usual style. There’s little humor and no pop culture references. It’s a much more straightforward narrative. But it’s an enjoyable watch, especially for people who enjoy more indie-styled character studies.
After the Batman television series was released in its complete form in a massive box set last year, Warner’s is paying service to fans on a budget with these seasonal volumes. Season Two, Part One represent some of the best of the classic Batman TV show, jam packed with goofy villains, dastardly deathtraps, and terrific guest stars. This volume sees appearances by Julie Newmar, Art Carney, Shelley Winters, Vincent Price, Liberace, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, and Otto Preminger, among others. I loved this show as a kid and I still have a really great time watching it, and I’m glad Warner is making available at a more affordable price.
The Lego franchise has become a force that has evolved beyond toys, and into video game and now movie culture. After a successful direct-to-video Lego Batman movie a couple of years ago, the Lego people have returned with the bigger and better (and unwieldingly-long titled) LEGO: DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League, a full-length computer generated film that straddles the line between superhero action and comedy. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun! Even though kids are the target audience, the adults watching it will enjoy it greatly as well, thanks to some really sharp writing that isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at some of the superhero conventions we take for granted. On top of all that, the film’s production designs are fantastic; despite the Lego stylings, this is a truly gorgeous movie. This is really one for the whole family.
Love At First Bite/Once Bitten and Vampire’s Kiss/High Spirits –
Shout Factory has two hooror-themed comedy double features out this week with Love At First Bite/Once Bitten and Vampire’s Kiss/High Spirits. Love at First Bite stars George Hamilton as Dracula and it was a favorite of mine when I was young. I hadn’t seen it many years and I’m pleased to report that it holds up quite nicely (despite some fashion and hairstyle tragedies). I had actually never seen Once Bitten before (which stars Jim Carrey in an early leading role) but I actually really enjoyed it. Lauren Hutton is terrific as a vampire queen and the film offers up a nice slice of ’80s nostalgia and some not-too-serious vampire fun. Vampire’s Kiss/High Spirits is a bit more of a mixed bag, however. Vampire’s Kiss is one of the films that put Nicolas Cage on the map, but it’s a bit of an oddball. And High Spirits is — despite a good cast (Peter O’Toole, Darryl Hannah, Steve Guttenberg) — mostly a mess. Still, for fans of these films, it’s hard to deny the value in these Blu-ray double features.
Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:
- When your marketing campaign starts with “From a producer of Obsessed” (you know, that terrible Beyonce movie that came out a few years back), well, I’m not expecting too much. But since Addicted had a pretty good trailer and I really like Boris Kodjoe, I decided to give this one a try. It ends up falling squarely into average territory; it’s not a bad thriller but it’s not a great one. It’s one of those movies you’ll watch and then forget about, but it’s an entertaining enough way to kill 90 minutes.
- Frances McDormand shines as always in Olive Kitteridge, the acclaimed HBO miniseries about, well, about a woman’s life. Directed by (deep breath) Lisa Cholodenko from Jane Anderson’s screenplay adaptation of author Elizabeth Strout’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, the film isn’t so much about story as it is about characters, and in that respect, it shines. McDormand is amazing, Richard Jenkins is fantastic, and even Bill Murray manages not to annoy me. This isn’t exactly light, Friday night popcorn fare, but it’s a solid and rewarding viewing experience, even if watching it can be a bit tough at times.
- I’m still not sure what to think about Z Nation: Season One. On the one hand, the show was clearly green lit because of the success of The Walking Dead, and it doesn’t come close to matching that show in terms of quality. On the other hand, it’s clearly not trying to, eschewing drama and character for cheap thrills and action. It’s not very deep, but I can’t say there’s nothing enjoyable about watching it.
- Ron Perlman, Ron Eldard, and Titus Welliver star in the cool thriller Poker Night. It’s a neat story about a detective who’s kidnapped by a serial killer and must use the wisdom he’s gleaned from other detectives on their regular poker night to stay alive. I like the cast, and the film is a lot of fun to watch. I just wish the cover art wasn’t so terrible. It paints a very different picture that what the film really is.
- I love me some BBC television, and Atlantis: Season Two, Part One is another fun genre entry from the network. More akin to the BBC’s Sinbad show than its Doctor Who offerings, Atlantis offers up a healthy dose of mythology, romance, intrigue, fantasy, and humor. Fans of fantasy television (an underrepresented genre) should have a lot of fun with this one.
- Robert Englund and Thomas Dekker star in Fear Clinic, a new horror movie based on a series of short online films. Englund is terrific as always, and the film delves into people’s fears while adding in an ongoing mystery. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, but good horror is hard to find these days and this one is at least worth watching.
- How exactly has this show lasted six seasons now? As much as I like some of the cast members, I’m not a huge fan of Nurse Jackie: Season Six. And the main reason for that is Edie Falco in the lead role. I understand that she’s a good actress, but for some reason, I just don’t like her very much. Still, there’s some talent at work in front of the camera and behind the scenes of this show, but it’s just not my cup of tea.
- Jackie Cooper stars in Syncopation, a romantic drama that spans 25 years of jazz music. I’m not a fan of jazz, but this is classic old-time Hollywood, and the jazz backdrop gives it a different feel than a lot of films of the time. Fans of movies like Yankee Doodle Dandy will enjoy this one.
- I absolutely loved Peanuts movies when I was a kid, and I’m so glad that my kids love them nowadays too. Some things are classics for a reason. Peanuts: Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown was one of my favorites of the movies when I was a kid, so I was really excited to watch it again for the first time in a long time. And I remembered why I loved it so much; it’s the most fun Peanuts movie. Charlie Brown doesn’t lose at everything, and there’s none of the teary-eyed moments that watching Snoopy Come Home will give you. This is a kids classic for all ages!
- The marketing for Maison Close: Season 1 would have you believe that this is the next 50 Shades of Grey. However, this French TV series — about a brothel in Victorian-era France — is more like Downton Abbey with prostitutes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the show doesn’t have as much charm as it needs to in order to justify watching multiple episodes in another language. There are some fine performances and a few good characters, but this wasn’t the show I was hoping it would be. It’s awfully bland for a show that’s supposed to be so sexy
- Rutger Hauer makes the cover but really only bookends the film RPG: Real Playing Game, a neat sci-fi thriller about ten rich old people who are transported into younger bodies and must kill each other off in order for the one survivor tone able to keep their younger bodies. Despite a lackluster ending, it’s a fun film that’s better than its low budget should allow.
- After awhile, it really gets hard to talk about shows from the 80’s without discussing how well they’ve aged. Take Hart to Hart: Season 4, for example. It was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid, but it just doesn’t quite seem to grip me the same way it did back then. Sure, some of the murder mysteries still hold up, but I can’t say I’m that engrossed by the show anymore. It’s not that it’s bad, it just seems to lack that ‘oomph’ it had back in the day. On the plus side, there are a few things I still enjoy about the show. Robert Wagner has long been a television favorite of mine, and I still enjoy his performances here. I also like how the Harts were a super rich couple who solved crimes; it’s a nice break from the rough-and-tumble private eye or undercover cops that were so prevalent in the 80’s. The show was kitschy, but it knew it and that was part of the charm.
- Kellan Lutz provides the voice for the titular character in Tarzan, an all-new CGI adventure of the Lord of the Apes. But that’s a bit of a misnomer, as he has all of about six lines in the fim. However, he also provided the motion capture for Tarzan (something detailed quite in-depth in the extra features), and it’s here that he really shines. I actually really liked this film. It adds just a hint of a sci-fi element to the Tarzan legend, and it also updates it for a modern retelling in a way that makes sense. The animation style isn’t great, but the story is solid and I enjoyed it overall.
- I’m not the target audience for faith-based films but I’ve reviewed a number of them now, and I have to say that The Song is one of the better ones. Although a bit heavy-handed at times, it reliably tells the tale of a good man who becomes a star and then finds his life and marriage threatened by temptation. This is pretty typical faith-based fare, but the cast is better than usual, and the writing isn’t awful like in some of these films. Families looking for good faith-based movies will find this one a winner.
- Transformers Rescue Bots: Jurassic Adventure is the latest collection of the hit animated series for younger Transformers fans. It’s simple, kid-friendly animation that plays out a lot like Batman: The Brave and the Bold or Marvel Superhero Squad Show, only with Transformers instead of superheroes. And instead of fighting evil, these Rescue Bots do things like put out fires and stop floods. It’s a fun show with some good action and some positive messages, and a low violence quotient, and that’s always good for kids.
- Not to be confused with The Wachowski Brothers’ debut film, Bound stars Charisma Carpenter and Daniel Baldwin (and, oddly, Terrell Owens) in a film that was clearly made to capitalize on the 50 Shades of Grey movie. From the cover art to the slogan to the film itself, the 50 Shades influence is all over this movie. Of course, with Charisma Carpenter in it, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing…
- Hey, it’s been at least a week since I reviewed an over-the-top Asian action epic. Oh wait, here comes Brotherhood of Blades to remedy that problem! As usual, the film mixes some awesome martial arts with some less-awesome drama, but if you like these kinds of movies, BoB is one of the better ones I’ve seen in a while. High production values and sweet action scenes (and a running time under two hours, thankfully) make this one worth watching.
- How long have we been waiting for THIS to happen? (Okay, maybe not that long.) Frankenstein vs. The Mummy answers the question of who wins when Frankenstein fights the mummy. More accurately, it answers the question of who wins when Frankenstein fights the mummy on a low budget. There’s some fun to be had with this film, but it’s definitely for people who like cheap horror movies and SyFy original films, rather than people looking for serious horror.
- Don’t ask me to explain the difference between Digimon Tamers: Volume 1 and Digimon Fusion: Season One, or the difference between Digimon and any of the other kids’ anime series that are out like Pokemon, Beyblade, etc. It’s all a bit of a mystery to me. And I realize that makes me sound old, but I dust don’t get all these shows like Digimon. That said, Digimon Tamers: Volume 1 offers up about 6 hours of digi-goodness, while Digimon Fusion: Season One represents the show that is current;y on air (and seems to be maybe aimed at somewhat younger viewers), giving you 11 hours of episodes on six discs. That’s a lot of Digimon!
- Hot on the heels of the recently released Stingray: The Complete Series, we now have Captain Scarlet and The Mysterons: The Complete Series. One of the siblings of Gerry Anderson’s hit puppet show, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet features a hot rod car as its main vehicle of choice. This complete series collection includes the entire series, all 32 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.
- The Carol Burnett Show: Together Again is what classic television is all about. I grew up watching this show, as I’m sure many of you did, whether in re-runs or when it originally aired. And you know what, it’s still funny. The great thing about The Carol Burnett Show is that the humor never focused exclusively on topical situations, so the comedy isn’t all that dated. Sure, some of the sketches aren’t surefire hits, but by and large, this is comedy at its best. This is sort of a greatest hits smattering of episodes, but it’s a great budget way to get some terrific comedy.
- Also from the Carol Burnett family of television, we have Mama’s Family. Vicki Lawrence returns to DVD with Mama’s Family: The Complete Sixth Season. The hit show was released last year in a mage-huge box set, and now fans can own the seasons priced individually and more affordably.
- Another Power Rangers show? How many of these things are there by now?!? Power Rangers Super Megaforce – The Silver Warrior hits DVD this week. I know the Power Rangers franchise is still going strong, and I guess I can see why. This newer series has better production values (although not by much) than the classic series, and they still have that cool robot/monster/superhero dynamic that kids love. Now, instead of samurais, we have the Megaforce. Yippee. The addition of special power force cards and megazords makes this series seem like it’s trying to cash in on the whole trading card game craze (like Pokemon and such.) Kids will probably like that, and parents will probably not. Because I’m sure it will cost money. You get four episodes on this DVD, and I’m sure a lot of kids will be excited about that.
- Chuggington: Turbo Charged Chugger is the latest collection of another popular kids’ show. This show is sort of hipper, more fun version of Thomas & Friends. A cast of computer-generated train characters get into mischief and have various adventures, and along the way they usually learn a little something, too. There’s also a really good voice cast in this show. It’s some of the better voice work I’ve heard on a kids’ show. Chuggington is a fun little show, and this new collection will be sure to excite your children.
- Whoa! Who is this Dora? Dora and Friends is the first DVD collection of the updated and modernized Dora cartoon. I’m not sure how popular it is (and it may be very popular for all I know), but I can say that it is about 100 times less annoying than the classic Dora show. This DVD gives you an hour and a half of updated Dora fun, and it’s nice to see a cartoon for girls that is a bit more up-to-date.
- While I generally don’t care about motorcycles, On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter is a pretty good documentary. That’s likely because it’s a film by Dana Brown (son of the great surf documentarian Bruce Brown), and here he follows up another of his father’s classic films. Brown is the undisputed king of the extreme sports documentaries these days, so this is a pretty good film, even for people like me who don’t get into motorcycles.
- Here we have the third release this week that was obviously tied to (and marketed to go along with) the release of 50 Shades of Grey. Kink is a new documentary produced by James Franco, and it explores the world of BDSM through one of the world’s leading BDSM websites, kink.com. This is a fairly balanced documentary, not out to titillate but also not afraid to show what goes on. That said, if you’re more conservative, then this probably won’t be the film for you.
- The new PBS program Earth: A New Wild documents how animals and people live together, and we’re not talking about dogs and cats here. Pandas, Tigers, and Chimpanzees (among may others) are featured here, and this show is more interested in talking about larger global issues than just showing cute animals. It’s heady stuff, but it’s also pretty interesting.
- I don’t get so much of what Cartoon Network is doing these days, and Clarence: Mystery Piñata sadly continues that trend. Oddball characters, ugly animation, annoying voices… yep, it’s got all the hallmarks of a Cartoon Network show. That said, I don’t find this one nearly as annoying as some of their other, more popular cartoons, so I guess that’s something. This disc contains 12 episodes for those of you who are fans.
- Yet another in the endless string of low-budget animated films form other countries that have been re-dubbed with Amwrican actors, A Mouse Tale stars John Heder, Cary Elwes, Miranda Cosgrove, Drake Bell, Jon Lovitz, and Tom Arnold. I’ve seen a lot of these now, and this is one of the better ones, with a more straightforward narratives about two mice on a quest to find a relic that can save their kingdom from evil rodents. It’s not on a level with the Dreamworks or Pixar films, but it’s cute enough for the kids.
- Paramount has decided to tackle kids’ school breaks and Easter in one fell swoop by dumping a huge amount of themed discs out at budget prices this week. On the kids’ side of things, we have Puff the Magic Dragon: Triple Feature, Strawberry Shortcake: Double Feature, Peter & The Magic Egg, and Dorothy in the Land of Oz. None of these are the big budget or well-known versions, but most of them offer up cheap animation and are available at super cheap prices, so if you’re looking for something to keep younger kids entertained with over the break, these might fit the bill. On the religious side of things, we have Greatest Heroes of the Bible: Volume One, Greatest Heroes of the Bible: Volume Two, and Greatest Heroes of the Bible: Volume Three. Also budget priced, these three discs each feature four one-hour programs that tell the most famous bible tales: The Ten Commandments, David and Goliath, The Story of Moses, The Tower of Babel, and so on. These aren’t big movie versions, but again, for families looking for some faith-based holiday material, their low price makes them an affordable option.
- Have you been longing for a documentary about seed but couldn’t find one? Well, Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds is here to solve that problem for you. The latest in a series of food/crisis documentaries, this one explores how important seeds are to the world and how we might not be as attentive to protecting them as we should be. It’s sobering stuff, as usual, and it will make you think. Better for the classroom than the couch, though.
- The House of Last Things is an uneven thriller about a trio of house sitters who end up in a kidnapping plot… or do they? The marketing for this film uses the word “hallucinatory,” and that’s pretty accurate. This is a film that’s quite odd, and doesn’t seem entirely sure where it wants to go at all times, but by the time it wraps up, it does seem to cohere. The cast is decent, and the film falls into that “average” territory, but I’ve definitely seen worse.
- Scholastic presents 20 Stories for Spring, a collection of 20 of their short animated cartoons based on popular kids books. I’ve written in previous reviews how much my kids enjoy Scholastic’s animated DVDs, but they usually only come with three to five cartoons per disc. This is a nice way to get a lot more bang for your buck. Stories include Curious George, Scaredy Squirrel, Chicken Little, Max & Ruby, and much more. A great collection for kids!
- Cinedigm continues their telenovela-on-DVD releasing with Quiero Amarte (Loving You is All I Want). This four-disc set is more traditional romantic soap opera fare, with lovers, weddings, a baby, and all the entanglements that come from that mix-up. Great if you speak Spanish, less so if you don’t.