It’s kind of an off week this week, with no real box office hits and not that many releases in general. Still, there are a few goodies to be found. Here’s the breakdown:
A Most Violent Year – Director J.C. Chandor gets better and better with each film. His debut, Margin Call, was critically acclaimed but left me cold. His follow up feature, Lost at Sea (starring Robert Redford) was a gripping if slightly flawed tale of man against nature. With A Most Violent Year, Chandor has delivered his most fully formed movie yet. The story follows a business man in New York in 1981, the city’s most violent year. As he tries to stay as ethical as possible, his drivers are under attack, the union is pressuring him, and he’s about to lose a huge deal that could cost him everything. While the story is interesting enough, it’s the performances that carry the film, especially Oscar Isaac’s. He is completely magnetic, and you simply can’t take your eyes off of him whenever he’s on screen. As for Jessica Chastain, I know there’s been a lot of attention given to her getting snubbed for an Oscar nomination, but to be host, I don’t think she was. She’s very good in this film, as she always is, but in my opinion, her performance simply isn’t Oscar-worthy. I don’t mean that to be rude; she’s a terrific actress and is in fine form here, it’s just not a performance that I think needs an award. If the film has any flaws, it’s that it runs just a bit too long. I like the fact that the film doesn’t rush things and doesn’t try to shoehorn action into a drama film, but it could have been just a tad shorter. Overall, however, A Most Violent Year is a solid drama that is fueled by some amazing performances.
MacGyver: The Complete Series – Even though the entire series of MacGyver has been collected before, CBS/Paramount is getting an early rush on the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gift buying possibilities with a new re-release of MacGyver: The Complete Series. Featuring more shelf-friendly packaging (read: smaller) and a lower retail price, this compact box set features all seven seasons of the show that was not only a hit, but became a show with lasting impact as well. Wacthing the show again, I was thrilled with how much I still enjoyed it, at least the first five seasons. By the sixth season, the show had lost a little bit of its creative steam. Even though Richard Dean Anderson remained a charming and energetic leading man, the show had run through many of the possibilities the story format offered up. MacGyver always had a sense of social consciousness, part of the show’s decline has to do with how overly topical it became. Sometimes, the show could border on preachy by this stage in the game; episodes in the last two seasons dealt with homelessness, crack cocaine, third world atrocities, illegal aliens, Native American rights, environmental ruin… the list goes on. It’s not that these are unworthy topics to address, it just seems as if the show had lost a bit of its sense of fun by always focusing on such heavy topics. Still, there are five truly terrific seasons and two solid ones, and as a bonus you get two MacGyver TV Movies, really completing this set. Great stuff!
Manhattan: Season One – One of the biggest problems I run into with reviewing movies and TV shows is that I often watch part of a season of a new show and really like it, and then I have difficulty finding time to watch all of the shows that I fall in love with. I’m far behind on way too many shows for my liking, because I watch and enjoy so many. Fortunately (and unfortunately) for me, I won’t have that problem with Manhattan. A dramatic retelling of the creation of the A-bomb in World War II, the show has good production values and terrific performances, but man, is it boring. I honestly struggled just to get through the first episode. I hoped it would improve after that, but I just find this show terribly dull. I don’t care for many of the characters, and I just couldn’t get wrapped up in the drama. It’s too bad; I feel like the show has a lot of potential, but it’s just not one I’m going to be following.
The Voices – Ryan Reynolds (who I’ve always felt was underrated as an actor) turns in a tour-de-force performance in The Voices, the story of Jerry, a nice young man who finds himself conflicted by the voices he hears: his cat, Mr. Whiskers (the devil on his shoulder), and his dog, Bosco (the angel on his shoulder) as he tries really hard not to kill people. The film is a black comedy, and while it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, it is really, really clever. There’s a neat trick the filmmakers do with Jerry’s house that really blew me away, and the last scene of the film is just utterly fantastic. I was really impressed with Reynolds as well. I spent the whole movie trying to figure out who was doing the voice of the cat (I could have sworn it was Ewan McGregor) and the dog, only to find out come the end credits that they were Reynolds himself. Throw in Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton, and Jacki Weaver in supporting roles, and The Voices is an odd film to be sure, but I have the feeling it’s a cult classic in the making.
Home Sweet Hell – This is a case of great trailer, mediocre film. Patrick Wilson stars as a henpecked husband who owns his own furniture store, while Katherine Heigl stars as his — theres no other way to put this — bitchy wife. (Why does she take these roles? They do nothing for her and I don’t think they help her reputation at all.) When Wilson accidentally impregnates Jordana Brewster from the Fast & Furious franchise, Heigl’s solution is simple: kill her. What’s supposed to be a black comedy is just not very funny. Wilson’s performance is good, but his character is hard to get behind, and Heigl’s character is so shrill you can totally understand why he cheats on her in the first place. I really wanted to like this movie, but it’s just solidly unremarkable in every way. It’s not terrible, it’s just not very good.
Breathless – Richard Gere stars in this remake of the Jean-Luc Goddard classic that is something of a travesty. First off, let me admit that I have never actually seen the original film, so I have to judge this one on its own merits. The character beats might come directly from the original, but I can’t speak to that. Richard Gere’s performance is one for the ages, but the problem is that his character is such a jerk, it’s hard to like him even a little. And since said character is in literally every single scene in the movie, it makes for a rough viewing experience. I found myself wanting to punch the guy in the face way more often than I wanted him to succeed in getting the girl or outrunning the cops. I did like the ending of the movie, but that’s really about it. The only reason I could recommend this one is for Gere’s terrific performance, but that’s about it.
Invaders From Mars – I’ve often wondered in the past why Tobe Hoopers career wasn’t more successful. After all, he helmed Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a bona fide genre groundbreaker, and Poltergeist, a massive hit horror film. And then I watch a movie like Invaders from Mars, his 1980s sci-fi/horror film, and it becomes more clear. He’s just not that great of a filmmaker. Invaders from Mars is a pretty classic martian invasion tale: aliens land in a small town, a young boy tries to thwart their invasion but no one believes him, alien action ensues. But the film is way more cheesy than it is scary, the acting is poor, and the individual scenes often don’t work. Once again, I like the last scene of the film, but the rest of it is B-movie shlock.
Also available on Blu-ray and DVD this week:
- How do you make a movie with Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner and receive no attention for it whatsoever? I don’t know, but The Immigrant has achieved that feat. I had barely even heard of this film before it crossed my desk. A drama about immigrants in the 1920s and the hardships they face when they come to this country, the film features terrific performances (no surprise there considering the cast), but never really becomes must-watch viewing.
- Aunjanue Ellis, Louis Gossett, Jr, Cuba Gooding, and Ben Chaplin star in The Book of Negroes, a four-and-a-half hour epic about the real life story of Aminata Diallo. I had never heard of her before watching this, but after seeing the film, I have to admit that I find her to be a fascinating figure. Sold into slavery, Diallo went through a life of turmoil that found her all over the world in a number of hostile situations. How she survived and persevered is an amazing story, one worthy of the lengthy running time this two-disc set provides. This one is worth tracking down.
- Robert Mitchum stars in the semi-classic Thunder Road, which makes its Blu-ray debut this week. It’s funny, this film kind of plays out like a 1950s version of a Fast & Furious film, with Mitchum as the tough-as-nails moonshiner who’s trying to stay one step ahead of the law. There are car chases that were probably pretty high-octane for the time, and Mitchum’s rugged performance is all swagger and macho charm. A fun flashback.
- I had never actually heard of One Step Beyond before receiving One Step Beyond: 6-DVD Collector’s Set for review. Did it influence the creation of the Twilight Zone? I don’t know for sure, but the marketers behind this set would have you believe so. And it’s clear there are some similarities, from the anthology format to the twisty sci-fi stories. This is a bargain release with a low price point, so you’ll have to settle for getting 70 of the 96 episodes that were produced (I’m assuming maybe the rest were lost?), but you do get to see some young guest stars like Charles Bronson, Cloris Leachman, Warren Beatty, and Suzanne Pleshette for just a few bucks, so it’s hard to complain too much.
- While the mind reels at the notion that this could be a gritty Asian remake of the Ahston Kutcher/Katherine Heigl comedy of the same name, Killers is actually a deep, dark, twisted psychological thriller that borders on the horror genre. When a journalist becomes obsessed with a serial killer who posts videos of himself torturing his victims online, he discovers that he, too, has the potential to take lives wantonly. The rivalry of sorts that develops between the two men who are thousands of miles apart propels the story forward, while making sure there are plenty of bloody kills to keep things visceral in the meantime.
- Masterpiece Mystery: Grantchester is the BBC doing what the BBC does best. They’ve had shows about people from all different professions solving mysteries, from cooks to doctors to authors to gardeners and everything in between. Now we have a small-town Vicar in 1950s England joining the sleuths club. Grantchester isn’t particularly innovative or original, but it does have its charms and will definitely appeal to people who love the BBCs particular style of mystery storytelling.
- I was never a huge fan of Barney Miller growing up, even though my parents used to watch it in reruns when I was young. I think it was a bit too adult for me to enjoy as a youngster, unlike some of the other comedies of the time. But Barney Miller: Season 7 collects the latest single season of the popular show, and fans will be happy to have it on their shelves.
- Even though I try to keep up with the digital and media world around me, sometimes I feel like I know nothing at all. Mad As Hell is a documentary about the YouTube sensation The Young Turks, who dispense their own particular brand of news commentary. Had I heard of The Young Turks before watching this film? I’d love to lie and say that I had, but honestly, I had no idea who they were. It turns out they’re hugely popular and influential. The nice thing is that this is a really strong documentary whether you’re a die-hard fan or a newbie like me.
- Seth Green, Dakota Fanning, Danny Glover, and Elliott Gould provide voices for Yellowbird, yet another release in the seemingly endless parade of animated films from other countries that are re-voices with American casts. The story is reminiscent of the Rio films or Chicken Little, but kids might like it. The animation is okay, neither terrible nor great, but you can’t help but feeling like you’re watching a bargain-basement knock-off of more successful films.
- Massacre Gun is an over-the-top revenge-killing Yakuza thriller from 1967. Making its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Arrow films, this cult classic is limited to just 3,000 copies, so if you’re a fan of director Yasuharu Hasebe or star Jo Shishido, you’ll probably want to snatch this up pretty quickly. From the cover art of the disc to the assured direction of the film, this movie is all style and atmosphere, and it’s a unique film to say the least.