This week boasts some of the biggest movies of the holiday season with three unequivocal blockbusters leading the pack. Here’s the full breakdown:
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – The Hobbit films have gotten a bit of a short shrift from fans of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but I’ve really enjoyed all of the films so far. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is easily my favorite of the three. Fans who complained that the first film was an hour of singing will be rewarded this go around, as the film is one non-stop action roller coaster, especially the last 45 minutes or so, when the titular battle occurs. What makes it so great is that — despite there being hundreds if not thousands of creatures battling it out — Peter Jackson manages to make each fight important and have consequences for our characters, in addition to being viscerally exciting. I was really impressed with the battle scenes; a lot of today’s directors could learn how to stage a fight sequence you can actually follow from this movie. Thumbs up all around.
Unbroken – Angelina Jolie’s true-life tale of Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini’s ordeal during World War II is an impressive feature for a director’s second film. There’s a sure hand at work here, and the film looks absolutely terrific. And while everything about the movie works, there is a little something missing, and I can’t put my finger on exactly what that is. I liked the performances, the story was gripping, the script was solid if not spectacular, and the direction is good. But at the end of it, the film falls more into the “like it a lot” category than the “love it” category. I don’t know what would have given it that extra spark, but there’s something. That being said, though, it is a very good film and I did enjoy it, so I do recommend watching it.
Into the Woods – I hate saying that I don’t generally like musicals because I try not to dislike any genre of films. I like movies, plain and simple, and if they’re good movies, they can fall into any category and I will like them. Moulin Rouge is a musical, and it’s one of my favorite movies. But, the fact is, there are very few musicals that I really enjoy. I’m happy to say that Into the Woods has become one of those. Being completely unfamiliar with the original stage play, I don’t have anything to compare it to, but on its own merits, it’s a well-put-together film with some great performances and some solid musical numbers. It’s not the kind of movie I’ll watch over and over again, but for having sat through it, I can at least say I enjoyed it.
Gates of Heaven/Vernon, Florida – The Criterion Collection releases a documentary feature of two of the more acclaimed documentaries of the past few decades. Filmmaker Errol Morris, one of the most preeminent documentary filmmakers of our time, has two films that are a perfect complement to each other collected in this terrific release. Gates of Heaven is about people who bury their pets in pet cemeteries, while Vernon, Florids showcases what life is like in a quirky small town in Florida. But to think these are straight documentaries is a misnomer; these are movies about people. They’re character studies that just happen to be about real-life people instead of fictional characters. With some amazing extra features (including the infamous Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe short film), this is a disc well worth the price of admission.
The Sure Thing: 30th Anniversary Edition – This early John Cusack movie was never one of his biggest hits, but it’s definitely not without his charms. Co-starring Daphne Zuniga and with supporting roles by Anthony Edwards, Tim Robbins, and Nicolette Sheridan, it’s a road trip comedy about a guy and a girl who can’t stand each other on a road trip across the country. And of course, over the length of the trip, their feelings start to change. It’s nothing terribly original (It Happened One Night predates it by 50 years or so), but the fun in it comes from Cusack and Zuniga’s onscreen chemistry and the oddball situations they find themselves in. It’s not up there with Cusack’s finest comedies like Say Anything or Better Off Dead, but it’s a fun nostalgia trip for sure.
Nova: Sunken Ship Rescue – I had to spotlight this release because it’s absolutely amazing. This hour-long documentary details the efforts that went into salvaging a capsized cruise ship off the coast of Italy. Now, I don’t care if you like documentaries or hate them, you NEED to watch this film. You will be blown away by what it takes to resurface a half-sunken cruise ship. It’s absolutely fascinating. The project took over a year and hundreds of millions of dollars, and this film documents it from the very beginning to the very end. Words can’t describe how interesting this film is; do yourself a favor and track it down.
A MusiCares Tribute To Paul McCartney – Despite being only an hour long, this fantastic concert film features a ton of performers paying tribute to McCartney by playing some of his best and most well-loved songs. In addition to a few songs by Sir Paul himself, you also get Alicia Keys, Norah Jones, Neil Young, Coldplay, Diana Krall, James Taylor, Dave Grohl, and more. The music is electric, the covers are all really strong, and its fun to play spot-the-celebrity in the audience (and trust me, there are plenty.) Great music that raises money for a great cause? I’m a fan.
Also available on Blu-ray and DVD this week:
- Anne Hathaway and Johnny Flynn star in Song One, a romantic drama that also functions as a musical of sorts (think Begin Again more than Les Miserables.) While the drama can occasionally be a bit heavy handed, Hathaway is in fine form here and Johnny Flynn is pretty good in the lead male role. The songs are pretty good, too, which is a huge bonus for a film like this. It’s not as good as Begin Again, but it will satisfy the core audience and folk music lovers.
- Adam Green movies will always get a look from me because he made Frozen (not the Disney one) which is one of my favorite movies of all time. And I enjoy the Hatchet films for what they are. So of course I was going to check out Digging Up the Marrow. And it’s quite an interesting film in every sense of the word. Digging up the Marrow is a heavily meta film in which Adam Green the director is contacted by a man (played by the always-excellent Ray Wise) who claims he can prove that monsters exist. So Green goes off to find out if its true. Sounds simple enough, but there’s a good deal about Green himself and the tribulations of working in the horror industry, and it’s not just the creature flick that the cover art would have you believe. I liked it, but it’s not for everyone.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXXII brings us four new riffed-upon movies: Space Travelers, Hercules, Radar Secret Service and San Francisco International. As always, there really isn’t anything here that you won’t find on many other MST3K releases out there, although I do like these box sets over the single movie releases. You get four movies, copious extras, and plenty of laughs. Hard to argue with that.
- It’s funny to think that — as well known as Mr. Bean is — the entirety of the TV show consisted of only 14 episodes. Well, those 14 episodes are all collected for the first time into Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean. With some great extra features, this set is perfect for anyone who’s a fan of Rowan Atkinson’s particular brand of physical comedy. I had never really watched much of Mr. Bean before, but I have to say that Atkinson’s skill is second-to-none. He really does physical comedy like nobody else. This set will be a real thrill for fans of everyone’s favorite Bean.
- I’m not familiar enough with Lonesome Dove to tell you if Lonesome Dove: Church has much to do with the original or not, but my guess is that it doesn’t. Starring Tom Berenger and Bitten‘s Greyston Holt, this direct-to-video video takes on a slightly faith-based approach, mixing religion in with the western action as a frontier preacher tries to protect his son. For the audience the filmmakers are trying to satisfy, I’ve seen worse.
- I’ll watch almost any disaster movie you put out there, so against my better judgment, I sat to watch L.A. Apocalypse, mostly because it stars Raymond J. Barry and Stargate SG-1‘s Christopher Judge. But when you put a former member of Nickelodeon boy band Big Time Rush in the lead role, you’re bound to run into problems. I can get over the cheap special effects, but when your pretty boy lead actor spends the entirety of the film running around deserted streets (and running awkwardly, I might add), I can’t recommend the end result.
- Marvel Knights: Wolverine Versus Sabretooth Reborn is not quite an animated movie, and not quite a comic book, but rather somewhere in between. As with many of these motion comics, the stories are great, but the voice characterizations of our beloved characters don’t sit 100% well with me. The bottom line here is that of you like the original comic books, you’ll like this animated release, because they are the comic books exactly, but more so. I like these motion comics for what they are; a mildly entertaining diversion. They won’t replace either animation or comic books for me, but they’re kind of different, and kind of neat. Kind of.
- I respect that Timeless Media puts out products like Tom Sawyer – A Musical Adaptation, because somebody somewhere is going, “Yes! I’ve been waiting decades to own this on home video!” And I’m happy for that person, I really am. But this one is a bit of a chore to sit through, despite some decent songs by the Sherman Brothers (Mary Poppins, many other Disney films) and a supporting role by Jodie Foster. Still, for those fans who have been waiting for it… um, congratulations!
- A Second Chance: The Janelle Morrison Story is a documentary about a truly amazing story. Janelle Morrison was a professional long distance triathlete who suffered a near-fatal car crash at the height of her career. And this wasn’t just any old car accident; it was truly amazing that she even survived. She then went through two years of rehab and training in order to compete once again in the sport she loves. It’s an inspirational and uplifting story, and a great doc for anyone looking for some motivation.
- Much like the Sunken Ship Rescue I mentioned above, Nova – Sinkholes: Buried Alive is another fascinating documentary from our friends at PBS. I grew up in Florida, where sinkholes were very common, and I always found them fascinating, but they don’t really get a lot of media coverage like the bigger natural disasters. This engrossing hour-long special takes an in-depth look at the phenomenon and features some stunning footage of real life sinkholes.
- There was a time long ago when the idea of seeing Vinnie Jones and Michael Madsen would have been exciting. Sadly, that time has long since passed. Diamond Heist is a generic crime thriller which sees both actors doing that thing they do with little interest or panache. Skip this one.
- Suzy’s Zoo: A Day With Witzy is a cute collection of cartoons about everyone’s favorite duckling. Featuring 26 short cartoons (each lasting a couple of minutes), this fun little DVD will be perfect for preschoolers and a little beyond. The show is easy to watch, simple, and enjoyable; what more could you ask for for your little ones?
- A Path Appears is a three-episode, four-hour documentary series about gender discrimination, gender inequality, and the resulting poverty, sex crimes, and sex trafficking issues that arise from them. An extremely disturbing subject, the film does offer some positive notes as it shares people’s real stories with us What helps keep it from being overwhelmingly bleak as well is the presence of celebrity activists who travel the world to raise awareness of the issues, including Malin Akerman, Mia Farrow, Ronan Farrow, Jennifer Garner, Regina Hall, Ashley Judd, Blake Lively, Eva Longoria, and Alfre Woodard.
- Kevin Sorbo seems to have moved from playing a god in Hercules to starring movies about god, as evidenced in Confessions of a Prodigal Son, his second faith-based film in the past year. This one follows a young man who takes his college fund and disappears, only to end up living a life filled with drugs and bad influences. Will faith and love help save the day? You probably already know the answer to that. For people who are interested in faith-based dramas, this one is pretty solid.