This week, we have a great mix of releases. Hit comedies, big-budget fare, classic TV shows, Hollywood cinema from the 50s, and much more. Here’s the full list:
Top Five –
Chris Rock wrote, directed, and stars in Top Five, a terrific new comedy about a comedic actor trying to make a run at dramatic films as his personal life falls apart around him. With an all-star cast of supporting players that includes Rosario Dawson, JB Smoove, Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union, and many others (look for Jerry Seinfeld and Adam Sandler to pop up in cameos, too), the film is carried by Rock and Dawson, who are absolutely terrific together on screen. The bulk of the film is the two of them talking about life, movies, art, drinking, their history, but it’s so well crafted that you’re engaged from the very first scene all the way through to the last. It’s nice to see Chris Rock finally tackling a project that clearly has some personal impact for him, and the result is terrific.
I had next to no interest in watching this show when I first saw promos for it last year. A bunch of soldiers in wigs and British redcoats and spies probably sounds pretty exciting to some people, but I thought it looked dreadfully dull. It turns out that that isn’t the case, as Turn is quite an engrossing drama. I was really hooked from the very first episode and it never let up from there. Jamie Bell is utterly fantastic in the lead role, while the supporting cast of almost entirely unknowns is also really great. What makes the show work is that there are no uninteresting characters. Everyone from the simple farmer turned spy to the evil British sergeant to the local magistrate to the rebel commander are all well-drawn, equally brushed out characters, and thats what makes the show spark. Check this one out if you haven’t already.
Unfortunately I haven’t yet received my review copy, so instead feast your eyes on the trailer below and see what you think. I’m looking forward to this one, but with Christian Bale and Ridley Scott starring and directing, respectively, (also known as the two most serious men in Hollywood), I’m worried that the film may sink under the weight of its own pretentiousness. We’ll see.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Madagascar films, and I’ve never quite understood why they’ve been such big box office hits. That said, this silly spin-off film starring the breakout characters of the penguins might be the film I liked the best out of the bunch, so of course it’s the one that tanked at the box office. Go figure. And while there’s nothing overly exciting about the film, it does away with the annoying characters of the main trilogy and gives us some good spy/commando penguin action, which is always good for a laugh. Plus, the squid villain is very funny.
Bruce Willis continues his run into direct-to-video mediocracy with Vice, a dull thriller in which he plays a supporting role to Thomas Jane (who I generally am a big fan of) and Ambyr Childers. The story borrows heavily from the Blade Runner playbook, focusing on replicant-like artificials who are created in the future to allow people to live out lives they wouldn’t be able to otherwise (think bank robbers, sexual trysts, etc.) When one of them becomes self-aware, well… you can probably figure it out. Jane is in fine form and Willis coasts along in the few scenes he’s in, but the film teas a neat premise and wastes it on an end result that is terminally boring. Too bad.
Even though I had a poster of Marlon Brando in The Wild One on my wall as a kid, I had never actually seen the film until now. It turns out that there’s a reason the movie made him a star, and that’s because this is a star-making turn if ever I’ve seen one. Brando plays the tough-guy with a heart, the leader of a motorcycle gang whose “invasion” of a small town gets out of hand. And even though as an adult, I found myself siding with the people of the town way more than I did the rebels (seriously, get a job, you hooligans!), it’s hard to deny the film’s charm and coolness. “Say, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” “What have you got?” Classic.
Sort of a hidden gem of the film noir genre, Ride the Pink Horse is a great little film that deserves a much wider audience. Enter The Criterion Collection. With a script by celebrated screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer, the film is all atmosphere and tension, and lead actors Robert Montgomery (who also directed) and Charles Gomez are terrific. Filled with tough guys and moral gray areas, Ride the Pink Horse will fit nicely in your collection alongside either the other excellent Criterion Collection discs or your Film Noir section. Either way, this is a great disc.
You’ve got to love Shout Factory. After nearly a decade which has seen only the first season of Maude available on DVD from parent company Sony, here comes Shout factory to release the complete series of one of television’s most groundbreaking and beloved sitcoms. A spin-off of All in the Family (and created by the legendary Norman Lear, as was AITF), Maude was a showcase for the singular talents of Bea Arthur, who was absolutely brilliant in the lead role as a brash, opinionated, intelligent woman who was never afraid to call things the way she saw them. This terrific box set not only includes all six seasons’ worth of episodes, but it also features two never-aired episodes, making it a real treat for fans. With a supporting cast that included Bill Macy, Adrienne Barbeau, Conrad Bain and Rue McClanahan and guest stars that included Jill Clayburgh, Michael Keaton, Bernadette Peters, Terri Garr, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Ed Begley, Jr., John Hillerman, Audra Lindley, James Cromwell and many others, this box set is a treasure trove of comedy greatness.
Ewan McGregor stars with The Giver‘s Brenton Thwaites in this terrify under-the-radar crime drama about a young man who gets caught up with an experienced criminal and finds himself in over his head. Similar in tone to something like Animal Kingdom, the film’s first 15 minutes are a mini-masterpiece of tension, while the rest of the film goes between drama and action, and the end result is a terrifically gripping film. McGregor is fantastic as always, and young Thwaites holds his own quite well. The film doesn’t rewrite the rulebook, but it does everything it does extremely well and has a very satisfying ending. I really enjoyed this one and I think you will, too.
I have sort of a long, odd history with Troop Beverly Hills. I remember catching about three-fourths of the movie on HBO at somebody else’s house when I was younger, shortly after the film hit pay channels (this would have been 1990-91 or so) and then I had to leave and never got to see the end of it. But I thoroughly enjoyed what I did see and always intended to finish watching it, but never did. Fast forward 24 years and the film makes its Blu-ray debut, and I finally got to see the end of it. And I have to say, I have a real soft spot for this film. Shelly Long is fantastic in the lead role, the cast includes early performances by Carla Gugino, Tori Spelling, and Kellie Martin, and it’s all just a whole lot of fun. While the 90s fashions that are on display are a but painful at times, the film really holds up as a great comedy in the vain of Legally Blonde or Private Benjamin. If you’ve never seen this movie before, I highly recommend it.
Also available on Blu-ray and DVD this week:
- I’ve never been a fan of the Halo video games, but solely because — not having an Xbox — I’ve never played them. But I’ve always found the universe interesting and have been impressed by the many short promo films the game has produced over the years. So I expected great things from Halo: Nightfall, a feature-length movie. And while it looks great and has some neat special effects, its incredibly dour and rather boring. Maybe fans of the franchise will get more out of it than I did, but as a casual watcher, I was bored to tears. Too bad.
- After last year’s Werner Herzog box set, Shout factory continues to release the individual films in single editions (and with terrible cover art) with Aguirre, The Wrath of God. In it, Klaus Kinski plays a Spanish conquistador who leads his men through a hellish jungle in the name of gold and glory. As with most Herzog films, it’s uncompromising in its grittiness, and Kinski is intense as usual. The film is pretty incredible, but you have to be in the mood to watch it, as I find is the case with most Herzog films.
- I don’t seem to have the love affair with My Girl that a lot of people do, so I’m not as excited about its Blu-ray debut as some people. Maybe it’s because — as someone who has always hated Home Alone — I just never saw the appeal of Macauley Culkin. It’s not that I think it’s a bad movie; it’s perfectly fine. I just don’t have that reverence for it that a lot of people seem to. Still, it’s on Blu-ray now, which will make some people very happen.
- I love Dexter. It’s a truly amazing show, and I applaud anything that gets more people to watch it. That said I don’t quite get Dexter: The Most Shocking Episodes. This collection of eight episodes does have some shocking moments, but who wants to watch a show this heavily serialized in bits and pieces. Dexter is a show that works best from start to finish, so to present it in a “greatest hits” style is just weird to me.
- That same format works much better for Star Trek: The Original Series – Captain Kirk’s Boldest Missions. This collection of episodes focuses on William Shatner’s indomitable captain, and includes some of the series’ greatest episodes, from The Doomsday Machine to Mirror Mirror to City on the Edge of Forever. Most Star Trek fans probably own these eight episodes by now, but for more casual fans who like the greatest hits format, this is a solid collection.
- Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles star in The Lady From Shanghai, a film noir based on the novel If I Die Before I Wake. Also written and directed by Welles, the film was considered scandalous upon its release, although it’s relatively tame by today’s standards. But it’s a real potboiler, filled with mystery and intrigue, twists and turns. Hayworth is almost unrecognizable with short blonde hair, while Welles’ duties behind the camera don’t take away from his skill in front of it. Making its Blu-ray debut this week, this is a terrific film and is well worth owning in high def.
- Revelation: The End of Days is an extremely interesting miniseries from The History Channel. Ostensibly telling the story of The Book of Revelations (i.e., the end of the world) as a found footage film, the story is split into two 90-minute halves. The first half shows us the calls of god’s trupmets and the beginning of the end of the world while the second half focuses on events seven years later and the rise of the antichrist, disguised as a human being. It’s made up of lots of real-world disaster footage that’s threaded together with special effects and actors playing out a narrative, and the end result is a compelling if not always successful fictional telling of what is — let’s face it — a fictional event.
- I watched Something Wicked for two reasons. One because it was (sadly) Brittany Murphy’s final movie, and I was always a big fan of hers. Second, the lead role is played by Shantel Van Santen, who I really like from her seasons on One Tree Hill. The good news is that the film isn’t terrible, but the bad news is that it isn’t great, either. Although sadly Brittany Murphy looks far from healthy and has only a supporting role, Van Santen is terrific and the story is at least interesting enough to make it worth watching.
- Maybe I’m dating myself, but I loved WKRP in Cincinnati when I was a kid. Watching it now, I’m pretty sure that half the jokes went right over my head (although I do remember being in love with Loni Anderson just like everyone else, so I must have gotten at least a few of them.) WKRP In Cincinnati is a great example of a real ensemble comedy; from Loni Anderson’s Jennifer to uber-nerd Les Nessman to Dr. Fever and Venus Flytrap, WKRP featured a core of eccentric and interesting characters. Sadly, the humor on WKRP definitely shows its age. That’s not to say it’s a bad show, but it has lost some of the shine that made the show so appealing in its heyday. You’ll find yourself chuckling a lot more than you will laughing out loud, but I imagine die-hard fans from back in the day will enjoy having this cast of characters back on their screens. After being released in a complete series box set last year, now you can own Seasons 1 and 2 separately, as they’re available this week.
- When you have kids, all you want out of a children’s show is for your kids to like it and for it to not be super annoying like Barney and Dora are. Honestly, that’s about it. If something occasionally comes along that happens to be darn near brilliant (like Phineas and Ferb, for example), well that’s just a bonus. My daughter LOVES the Littlest Pet Shop toys, and while it does nothing for me as an adult, it doesn’t annoy me either. It fits right alongside similar cartoons like My Little Pony and La La Loopsy, so if you’ve seen those, you know what to expect here. Kids will love Littlest Pet Shop: Pet Shop Pals, parents will ignore it, simple as that.
- Wordworld: Birthday Party is a cute little kids show where all the characters and items are made out of their actual words. It’s an educational show for pre-schoolers, and while my kids are too old for it now, they enjoyed it when they were young, and your kids probably will too.
- Narrated by Jay O. Sanders, Secrets of the Dead: Ben Franklin’s Bones is a fascinating documentary about a cache of bones that were discovered in the basement of Benjamin Franklin’s house some 200 years after his death. Was he a serial killer? No, but it turns out there was some major illegal grave robbing going on during his shift in the name of medical science. This program explores what happened and how, and it’s pretty interesting stuff.
- Surprisingly not about the hit sitcom, Nova: Big Bang Machine instead focuses on the CERN machine and the search for the “god particle,” more accurately known as the Higgs Boson Particle. It’s heady, scientific stuff, but it does try to distill it down to being understandable for us regular folks.
- The title of American Experience: The Forgotten Plague is quite fitting. Consider the fact that in the early nineteenth century, Tuberculosis had killed one in seven people who had ever lived, and it’s strange to think that it’s just an afterthought in today’s world. This documentary explores the disease’s ravishing historical effects, its eradication, and how it changed the world. Not exactly cheerful, but enlightening.
- Nature: Penguin Post Office follows the unusual antics of some 3,000 Gentoo penguins in Antarctica who completely surround the post office in Antarctica every summer, turning a pedestrian service center into one of the continents bona fide tourist attractions. I love penguins anyway, but I had never heard of this story before, so I really enjoyed this fun and interesting hour-long documentary.
- The award-winning animated film Wolfy, The Incredibe Secret comes to DVD and makes a good case for why it’s an award-winner. It’s a cute little tale about a wolf and a rabbit who are best friends that end up smack-dab in the middle of a meat-eating festival. While kids can appreciate it, it’s not a “kids” movie per se, and that’s part of its charm. This is one of those cool little films that slips under the radar but is worth tracking down.