We’ve got a mix of blockbusters, Oscar-nominated hits, kids’ releases, and hit TV shows this week. Check out the full release slate:
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 – Technically, this comes out on Friday, March 6th, as part of Lionsgate’s marketing campaign. (It’s a SPECIAL release day! Get it?) Unfortunately, this film is a bit of a stumble after the superb Catching Fire, which remains the strongest entry in the series. The main problem is that this is the first part of a two-film story that didn’t need to be two films. As a result, the pacing is way off. Gone is the urgency of the first two films, and instead the movie feels bloated, which is something this franchise has never had to deal with before. It’s not that I didn’t like the film; I did. It’s just the first one that I felt was a little disappointing. Of course, you add Julianne Moore to anything and it’s going to improve, so that’s one bonus.
Foxcatcher – Speaking of disappointing, let’s talk about Foxcatcher, one of the most overrated and under-delivering films of the year. I don’t know where all of the hype for this movie came from, and I CERTAINLY don’t know how director Bennett Miller got an Oscar nomination over David Fincher for Gone Girl. And sure, Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo are both good in their roles, but Oscar nominations for them? I don’t see it. The biggest crime the film commits is that it’s dreadfully boring. Everything is done in a minimalist fashion, from the script to the score and everything in between. The problem with that is minimalist filmmaking works a lot better when the movie is 90 minutes or so, not over two hours. And there are so many parts of the story that are murky. What exactly is happening in that scene with Channing Tatum and Steve Carell in the gym at night? I have no idea, and that shouldn’t be the case. I really didn’t like this movie, and I can’t believe so many people did.
Outlander: Season One, Volume One – I’ve never read the Outlander series of books that Starz’s hit show is based on, but from hearing every blow-by-blow detail of them from my wife (who’s a huge fan) I feel like I have. That said, regardless of whether you’ve read the books or not, you’ll be hard pressed not to fall in love with Outlander. The story follows a World War II nurse who gets mystically transported back in time to the 1700s in the Scottish highlands. There she meets a man and falls in love with him, but what of her husband waiting back in the 20th century? While this sounds like it could be weepy melodrama, it’s anything but, filled with action, humor, romance, drama, and mystery. And with lavish production values, the show looks like a feature film. No wonder this is such a big hit for Starz.
The Captive – Ryan Reynolds stars in this tense drama/thriller from acclaimed writer/director Atom Egoyan. Along with a terrific cast that includes Mireille Enos, Rosario Dawson, Scott Speedman, and Bruce Greenwood, the film follows a mom and dad whose daughter has been missing for eight years. It’s not all drama nor all thriller, but a perfectly blended film that lands squarely in between, and I really liked it. It’s dark, intense, and sobering, but the performances are uniformly excellent and the story is gripping. More importantly, there isn’t a single character in the film that isn’t well-drawn and complex, meaning you care about every single person in the movie. There’s a fractured timeline narrative that can occasionally make the timing of events a bit hard to follow, but overall this is an incredibly well-done film, and you should definitely seek it out.
CHiPs: Season 3 – I was just a wee little kid when CHiPs first hit the airwaves, but I can clearly remember it being one of my first favorite TV shows. I especially remember it in syndication; where I grew up, the show played on two different stations back to back, so every day during the summer, from noon to 2 PM, I got a double dose of Ponch and Jon. For years, every summer I would watch CHiPs all afternoon, and as a result, it has long remained one of my favorite TV shows. You might think that in the day and age of 24, The Following CSI, Law & Order, and the like, the goofy fun of a show like CHiPs plays out as horribly cheesy. I’m happy to report, though, that that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Granted, if you’re looking for a grim and gritty police procedural, you should run in the other direction. But in a time when all of our cop shows are so unrelentingly dark and intense, the sunny fun of the California Highway Patrol is the perfect antidote. CHiPs may not be the deepest show in television history, but it is extremely entertaining. And for me, sometimes that’s all I want out of my television: to be entertained. With CHiPs, I get car chases, mysteries, buddy cops, and a good dose of humor, and I love it.
Warner Musicals 4-Movie Collection – If you’ve ever wanted to see Kiss Me Kate in 3D, then you’re in luck, as the new Warner Musicals 4-Movie Collection offers up just that. (It also offers the film in standard 2D.) What it really gives you, besides a 3D gimmick that I suspect most people don’t care that much about, are four terrific musicals, in the form of the aforementioned Kiss Me Kate, Singin ‘in the Rain, Calamity Jane, and The Band Wagon. I mean, Singin’ in the Rain alone makes this set worth having, but the other three films finally being available on Blu-ray is a terrific boon for fans of musicals. Singin’ is my favorite of the four, but Kiss Me Kate and Calamity Jane are also pretty great. I like The Band Wagon, too, but it’s probably my least favorite of the bunch. Still, this set gives you four films (five if you count the 3D version) for a really low price, making it a must have for musicals fans.
Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast – The Tinkerbell direct-to-video movies are clearly quite popular, as this is the sixth or seventh (or 34th) entry into the franchise. One good thing is that they are improving as they go. I didn’t really like the first couple of films in the series, but the last few have been pretty good. This time around, Tinkerbell and her friends go in search of the mysterious Neverbeast, but is it friend or foe? Well, this is a Disney release, so the answer isn’t a big mystery, but the film is fun and cute and the target audience should have a lot of fun with it.
Da Vinci’s Demons: Season 2 – I really wanted to like this TV show by David S. Goyer, co-writer of the Dark Knight Trilogy. After all, it’s about Leonardo Da Vinci (who I’ve long been fascinated by), it was created by Goyer (who I’m a big fan of), and it features several gorgeous ladies (who aren’t afraid to shed their clothes) in the cast. Unfortunately, the show never gets off the ground, even if some of Da Vinci’s inventions do. The writing is sometimes weak, and while Tom Riley plays Da Vinci with charm to spare, most of the rest of the cast is a dour and over-serious as can be. Also, the copious use of CGI to recreate medieval Italy is less than stellar. It looks so CGI that it comes across as fake and is ultimately distracting. I wish I could have liked this show more, but it lost me early on and never won me back. Too bad.
Longmire: Season 3 – I didn’t watch Longmire when it originally aired because it looked like too much of a Justified rip off, but it does sort of manage to establish its own identity, even if its clearly influenced by Justified. The show kind of seems like the adventures of Raylan Givens after he retires and moves out to Montana. But the real problem for me started in the very first episode, when Sherriff Longmire arrives at the edge of the local Indian reservation to investigate a crime, and is instantly called “the white man” by the Indian police officer and barred entry to the reservation. Now maybe that’s how things really are in that part of the country, I don’t know, but it’s just such a cliched storytelling device that I’m tired of seeing it. So that kind of stuff keeps me from loving this show, but it’s likable at least.
Also available this week on Blu-ray and DVD:
- Al Pacino stars in The Humbling, a movie about an aging actor; starring an aging actor, written by an aging writer, and directed by an aging director. The result? It’s not bad, actually. It’s not perfect, but I’ve seen worse. Pacino dials down the “hoo-ah” to turn in one of his better performances of late, and it’s nice to see him not trying to still play an action hero or a bad cop or some of the things he’s done in recent years. It’s a nice reminder of why he was once one of the best.
- Pink superheroes? Why not! In Barbie in Princess Power, we get to see Barbie and her pals as superheroes. But wait, she’s already a princess to begin with, so this makes her a princess superhero! Yep, nothing like loading up all your bestselling character attributes into one film, right? What can I say? Little girls will love it.
- Kat Dennings and Chad Michael Murray star in To Write Love on Her Arms, a surprisingly good drama about drug addiction, suicide, and relationships. It’s based on a true story, but that isn’t what makes the film work necessarily. Instead, the winning cast, solid script, and deft touches of humor and character development give the film a nice aesthetic that keeps you engaged. Worth checking out if you don’t mind dramatic material.
- Shout Factory’s top-notch horror imprint delivers another winning double feature with Blacula/Scream Blacula Scream. This two-film collection includes the original, classic Blacula film and it’s less-worthy sequel. Still, for pure camp classics, it doesn’t get much better than these blaxploitation hits. The 70s trappings become part of the charm here, and the result is a double dose of fun and funk.
- Once in a great while a television show will come along that defines a genre, and Hill Street Blues was one of them. Although it wasn’t the first police drama, it certainly was one of the first of its kind to add the element of gritty realism to the genre. Following Hill Street Blues there were a variety of imitations; many of them were good in their own right, but you can thank Hill Street Blues for later police dramas like Miami Vice, Cagney and Lacey, T.J. Hooker, NYPD Blue, The Shield and even to some extent, the CSI shows. Hill Street Blues: Season 4 continues the show’s season-by-season run on DVD.
- A strong cast heads up Let’s Kill Ward’s Wife, a black comedy that takes a page from the Very Bad Things playbook. Donald Faison, Patrick Wilson, Scott Foley, Greg Grunberg, Amy Acker, and Nicolette Sheridan all look like they’re having a pretty good time with this film, while Foley also directs. The movie isn’t groundbreaking, nor is it something you’ll rave about to your friends, but it is enjoyable and at least worth checking out.
- Nick Offerman and Christopher McDonald have supporting roles in Believe Me, one of the few comedic entries in the faith-based movie oeuvre. This one follows a group of college students who start a fake ministry to make money, but of course, someone comes along who makes them question their faith. Most Christian films take themselves so seriously it’s painful, but this one doesn’t mind poking a bit of fun at evangelical ministers. While I’m not the target audience, this one is better than most of the other faith-based films I’ve had to sit through.
- I had never heard of the book this movie is based on, but Innocence is apparently an adaptation of a Young Adult book by author Jane Mendelsohn. As with most of the movies in this genre, it’s light supernatural drama, filled with teen romance and mild peril, but nothing truly edgy. It’s hard to get worked up about this movie in either direction; it’s neither great nor bad. Instead, it’s maddeningly mediocre. But maybe fans of the book will like it.
- Looking for a film that can best be summed up as Mad Max as a Spaghetti Western? Exterminators Of The Year 3000 has got you covered. This lovingly cheesy Italian/Spanish co-production from the early 1980s will be a great find for fans of low-budget sci-fi epics, but everyone else will probably find it a bit too wacky. Still, it’s filled with slow motion car crashes, death by motorcycle, bad dubbing, and all of the hallmarks you’ve come to love of low-budget sci-fi.
- The newest collection of the hit kids cartoon series Lalaloopsy hits DVD with Lalaloopsy: Festival of Sugary Sweets. My daughter loves these dolls and this show, and even my son will watch it sometimes, so that makes it a winner in my book.
- Leapfrog: Amazing Word Explorers is the latest collection from Leapfrog, a terrific DVD that sees our gang of animated animal kids learn all about, reading, letters, and the like. The show is simple animation, but it manages to take concepts of language and reading and make them fun and easy to understand for young ‘uns. My own kids still enjoy the Leapfrog movies and this one was enjoyed.
- Kino Lorber and Alive Mind Cinema re-release The Bridge, the moving, sad, and fascinating 2007 documentary about people who commit suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge. Filmed every day over the course of the year, the filmmakers weren’t out just to catch suicides on film (although they sadly did), but also to try and help people in some way (which they also did.) It’s a really interesting look at the most used suicide location in the world.
- Nazi Megaweapons: Series 2 is a fascinating documentary series from PBS. This second two-disc, six hour series sees a group of explorers and documentarians set out to track down some of the most incredible weapons the Nazi regime ever created. The results are gripping and intriguing, whether you’re a war/history buff or not.
- I didn’t even know the Queen of England had a garden, but apparently she does. The Queen’s Garden is a new PBS documentary that shows us a year in Buckingham Palace Gardens, a lavish part of the palace us commoners don’t get to see very often. I’m going to go ahead and say this will appeal mostly to Royals watchers and gardening fans, but it’s good for what it is.
- Bubble Guppies: Fin-Tastic Collection is a two-disc, four hour collection of the popular Nickelodeon kids’ cartoon. From the creators of The Backyardigans — which is one of my favorite kids shows from the current crop — Bubble Guppies is basically like The Backyardigans underwater. The show is usually broken up into a few vignettes and also includes a few songs; just the right amount, too. Not so many as to get annoying, but enough so to keep the show moving at a good clip. Along the way, the Bubble Guppies teach us about concepts like science and friendship, counting and behavior. It’s a good show with a good mix of lessons for the little ones.
- Paw Patrol: Marshall & Chase on the Case is the newest DVD release of the popular new series for pre-schoolers. The show features six dogs and their 10-year-old friend who use cool vehicles to save the day and teach lessons about “good citizenship.” Its a fun show, and the young ones will love it.