It’s a great slate of releases this week, with a number of mid-sized hits making their way to shelves. Here’s what’s on tap:
Paddington – What a magical film Paddington is! I read all the books when I was a kid, and if you’re a fan, you’ll be happy to know that this movie will not let you down. It perfectly captures the magic of those wonderful books. The even better news is that even if you’ve never read a Paddington book in your life, you will still love this movie. It’s charming, funny, endearing, and just plain enjoyable from start to finish Hugh Bonneville is absolutely fantastic as the Brown family patriarch, and Skyfall‘s Ben Whishaw could not be a more perfect choice for Paddington’s voice. Kid or adult, it doesn’t matter; you will love this film!
The Wedding Ringer – When I first saw the trailer for The Wedding Ringer, I thought it looked incredibly awful. It was filled with lowest common denominator humor and none of the jokes looked particularly funny. I decided to watch it mostly because I really like Josh Gad, and in general I do like Kevin Hart more often than not. And then it turns out, guess what? It’s really, really funny. I enjoyed this movie about 100 times more then I expected to. It has a lot of similarities to films like I Love You, Man, but it doesn’t matter. The characters are humorous, the jokes are funny, the physical comedy is excellent, and I laughed pretty much from start to finish. Check it out; you might be as surprised as I was.
The Boy Next Door – Jennifer Lopez stars in this lean thriller from action director Rob Cohen (The Fast & The Furious). Here’s the thing about this film: you’ve seen it a hundred times before, from Sleeping with the Enemy to Obsession to J. Lo’s own Enough. That said, it’s an enjoyable enough little thriller that benefits from a really terrific performance from Ryan Guzman as J. Lo’s infatuated stalker. He really is the revelation in this film, although John Corbett turns in a great supporting performance as well. And J. Lo is good overall, although I’ll never really think of her as a great actress. For an easy Friday night thriller, The Boy Next Door makes for a solid rental.
Inherent Vice – What happened to Paul Thomas Anderson? There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights are two of my favorite movies of all time. I chalked The Master up as a rare misfire that still benefited from a simply amazing performance by Joaquin Phoenix. But then you have Inherent Vice. I knew that the fact that it was based on a Thomas Pynchon novel meant trouble; I read one of his books and college and it was one of the worst literary experiences I’ve ever had. But I had faith that Anderson could do something good with it. I was wrong. Inherent Vice is actually one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. In fact, to even call it a movie is giving it too much credit. It’s really just an excuse for a bunch of actors to share the screen playing character with silly names. Doc Sportello, Sortilege, Japonica Fenway, Sauncho Smilax, Petunia Leeway… the whole movie is just a shell to introduce more and more characters with ridiculous names. That’s it. If two-and-a-half hours of that sounds good, then go for it, but for me it’s just a chunk of my life that I will never get back.
The Gambler – Gambling movies make me ill. And what I mean by that is they literally make my stomach twist and turn. Every time I see a gambler put down ten, twenty, forty thousand dollars on a bet you know they shouldn’t make, it makes me physically uncomfortable. And that’s how I felt throughout the entirety of The Gambler, in which Mark Wahlberg falls deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. It’s actually a pretty enjoyable film (except for that feeling in my stomach), although it is not without its flaws. There’s a romantic subplot that’s actually completely pointless, and the film could have been a bit shorter. But Wahlberg is good and the film keeps you invested all the way through, so it’s worth watching.
The Barber – You probably haven’t heard of this movie, but if there’s any justice in the world, you will. Scott Glenn stars as a small town barber who may or may not be a serial killer. Chris Coy (who you might remember as Andrew the cannibal on The Walking Dead) plays the son of the detective who killed himself trying to prove Scott was a serial killer. Oh yeah, and he might be a serial killer, too. What follows is a game of cat and mouse that will have you on the edge of your seat for the entirety of the film. Scott Glenn, whom I’ve always liked as an actor, turns in a truly excellent performance here, and the film is taut, exciting, suspenseful, humorous, and hypnotic. Watch it now before your friends are telling you about it.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle – Robert Mitchum take a late-career turn as Eddie Coyle, a small time criminal and perennial loser in this quintessential Boston crime drama. The film centers on Coyle decision as to whether or not to snitch on his criminal colleagues in order to avoid jail time, and follows a number of players who are involved in the proceedings, from bank robbers to cops to informants to gun dealers. It’s a terrific character piece, and Mitchum is absolutely brilliant. The city of Boston is practically a character in the film, and a number of other actors pop up to pepper the landscape, including Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Alex Rocco, and James Tolkan. As this is a Criterion Collection release, the remastered sound and picture make it all that much better in high definition.
Miami Blues – What a strange, strange film this is. Alec Baldwin takes second billing to Fred Ward in this oddity from earlier in his career. What starts off as the story of a con man and the hooker he falls for turns into a strange odyssey into him impersonating a cop. Storywise, it’s unusual, but tonally, the film is all over the place. It can’t make up its mind whether its a thriller, a comedy, a drama, or some mash-up of all three. The result is a complete mess. Baldwin is pretty great in the lead role, but the film is just too out there to ever really come together. This new Blu-ray version of the film does include some cool extra features, though including new interviews with Baldwin himself.
Also available on Blu-ray and DVD this week:
- Ken Burns’ latest documentary is Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, which comes out as a three-disc set this week. Throughout the course of the film, Burns mixes together the history of the disease and the science behind it with heartfelt profiles of people whose lives have been affected by the disease. It’s fascinating and moving stuff.
- Academy nominated for Best Documentary Feature, American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam tells the story of the very end of the Vietnam War, as the country fell to chaos and thousands of Americans were effectively stranded with no exit plan. It won’t change any negative feelings you have about the war, that’s for sure, but it’s an incredibly interesting look at an unprecedented moment in American history.
- Damian Lewis stars in Masterpiece: Wolf Hall, a television adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s best-selling Booker Prize-winning novels. I’m not familiar with the books, and this type of Shakespearean drama isn’t usually my cup of tea, so I can’t say I fell in love with this show. What I can say, however, is that is excellently-acted, has strong production values, and will certainly appeal to fans of this kind of historical drama.
- The Mentalist is an interesting show for me. I don’t really dislike it, but I do have some major issues with it. For one thing, I’ve always felt that it is without a doubt a rip-off of Psych, just transformed into a serious procedural rather than a comedy show. I also don’t really care for Simon Baker’s performance as Patrick Jane, which is odd because I actually really like Simon Baker as an actor. But he does this quirky oddball thing with his performance that gets on my nerves after a while. That being said, the show is engaging, and filled with good mysteries, plus the overarching Red John story that drives Jane always makes for good episodes, and this The Mentalist: Season 7 sees that finally wrapped up for good, along with the show itself.
- Vincent Price stars in From A Whisper To A Scream, a cult classic horror anthology from the eighties. This creaky thriller features four stories, including ones about necrophilia, voodoo, and cannibal children. It’s not as great as it sounds if you like that kind of thing and it’s not as bad as it sounds if you don’t. It’s just sort of typical dated horror fare. The best thing about it is Price; it’s great to see him on screen any time.
- Okay, I think most people of a certain age kind of can’t stand Scrappy Doo. But the fact remains that he was a part of the Scooby Doo universe for a time, and his episodes have been sorely underrepresented on DVD. Scooby-Doo and Scrappy Doo: Season 1 aims to fix that by presenting the first season of the 1979 series that starred the annoying little puppy. Despite the presence of Scrappy, this is still classic Scooby Doo, and it’s nice to finally have these episodes on DVD.
- Allison Miller and James Wolk star in Always Woodstock, a finding-yourself dramedy that is just charming enough to work. It’s completely predictable in every way, but that’s not always a bad thing. With co-stars like Brittany Snow (in a fun role), Jason Ritter, Ryan Guzman, Rumor Willis and Katey Sagal, this is an enjoyable film for fans of lighthearted dramatic fare.
- I’m not an expert on My Little Pony, so I can’t tell you all the particulars of the new My Little Pony Tales: The Complete TV Series set, but I can tell you that it’s the classic show and not the new one, it includes 13 episodes (I seem to be recall there being more than that) and 26 stories (two per episode.) More importantly, I can tell you that my daughter likes it, and that’s all that matters to me. And I’m guessing, to you too.
- I Love Lucy: I Heart Mom Edition is like a pre-made Mother’s Day gift. Not only does it include four episodes of the classic sitcom (all ones focusing on Lucy as a mom, natch), but it even includes a built-in pop-up greeting card. With a low price point, this is actually a pretty good gift. I mean, how many moms of the age that would love this show have extensive and complete DVD collections. In my experience, not many. So share some laughs this Mother’s Day!
- We’re just a little over halfway through the monumental run of one of history’s most popular sitcoms with The Jeffersons: Season 7. Not only was the series popular, but also groundbreaking, featuring the first African American television family that was as well off as any of the white families on TV. That’s fairly heady stuff for the mid-70’s. Today, the show still amuses, even if it fails to elicit the out-loud laughter it did back in its prime.
- One of television’s earliest comedy blockbusters, Sgt. Bilko was a spotlight for Phil Silvers’ signature character, and he clearly steals the show. Sgt. Bilko is 1950s humor at its best; rather than feeling dated, it feels timeless. Unlike so many other comedies from the past that age poorly, Sgt. Bilko comes across as a classic, and it’s funny stuff. The joke-telling is from another era, but it works because the writing is strong and the actors understand how to be funny. Sgt. Bilko – The Phil Silvers Show: Season 2 is out this week.
- I don’t know how much demand there is for Mama’s Family on DVD, but the studio seems to think there’s a lot. Despite the fact that Season Five is already available as an affordable season set, now we have Mama’s Favorites: Season 5, which is like a best-of collection for the season. I don’t quite get it, but if you want to own some of the show but not all of it, now’s your chance.
- New Tricks: Season 11 sees the popular British mystery show return to DVD. Basically a better take on Cold Case, the show sees a group of older detectives taking on (and usually solving) cases that have gone cold. The show benefits from an infusion of youth with the addition of Tamzin Outhwaite (who I really like) last season, and it remains a cracking good mystery show.
- Mommy is a French-Canadian film from young wunderkind director Xavier Dolan. Thorugh amazing performances by Anne Dorval and Antoine-Olivier Pilon, this story of a young man with violent ADHD and his struggling (and not entirely angelic) mother is a real tour-de-force. It’s not lighthearted fare and it will probably resonate a little too closely for some people, but it is a powerful experience.
- Despite my kids watching Nickelodeon pretty regularly, I hadn’t even heard of Mia & Me: Discover Centopia until this disc crossed my desk. I believe it’s actually a German show originally that has been dubbed into English. Basically, it’s about a young girl who gets transported into a magical storybook world of fairies and fantastical creatures. Kids who like stuff like The Winx Club and the Tinkerbell movies should enjoy it.
- Learn all about the incredible world of fetal surgery with Twice Born: Stories from the Special Delivery Unit. This program visits the world-renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and follows the stories of several families that have to deal with surgery on their unborn children. Compelling stuff.
- A Celebration of Peace through Music is an interesting release. I expected it to be church hymns or gospel songs, but instead, it’s a varied range of classical-style music. Conducted by Sir Gilbert Levine, the concert honors the canonizations of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, in the spirit of Pope Francis, and songs include things like Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Leonard Bernstein’s Chicester Psalms and Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa Da Requiem. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but better than I expected.
- Another Nickelodeon show I was largely unfamiliar with, Wallykazam is a cute little show for preschoolers that infuses literacy learning more directly into the episodes than some of Nick’s other shows. Similar in spirit to SuperWhy, the show is a cute little series, following a little guy named Wally and his dragon Norville as they use words to learn about and change their magical kingdom. Fun stuff for the young ‘uns.
- Let’s Learn: S.T.E.M. is the latest DVD from Nickelodeon that’s geared squarely at the pre-school set, with a heavy emphasis on learning basic concepts. In this case, that’s science, technology, education and math. The disc contains episodes of Dora the Explorer, Bubble Guppies, Team Umizoomi, Blue’s Clues, Paw Patrol, and Blaze and the Mosnter Machines. Sure, each of these shows deals with learning in most all of their episodes, but these ones do seem to have a more basic learning building block at the core of them. What’s great is that kids love these shows, so they won’t be like, “blah, a boring educational DVD.” It’s shows they love, and there are some basic skill building lessons on colors included. Not too shabby.