There aren’t a ton of huge releases this week, but I suspect that’s because all of the studios wanted to get out of the way of the juggernaut that is American Sniper. Here’s everything that’s available this week:
American Sniper –
For my money, I would have really liked to have seen Bradley Cooper win the Oscar for Best Actor this year. I loved him in American Sniper, and I think he deserved the award, but it wasn’t meant to be. Obviously, by now we all know what an incredible hit American Sniper was at the box office. And I read a lot of articles that talked about how maybe Americans were ready for war movies again and yadda yadda yadda, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it. I think American Sniper hit upon a magical combination of canny marketing, an amazing lead performance, a fascinating story, and an all-around great film to capture the American public’s attention. The fact that it’s a war film is secondary to the fact that it’s better than a lot of war films that have come out over the past few years, including Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker. If you’re looking for a thoughtful, tense, invigorating, emotional movie, American Sniper will fit the bill perfectly.
I think Netflix expected the relaunch of Arrested Development to be their future nest egg, but it’s Orange that stole the crown as the most talked-about comedy on the internet video provider. Taylor Schilling plays a yuppie-ish thirtysomething who goes to jail for a year for a one-and-done crime she committed ten years ago. Fish out of water hilarity (and drama) ensues. The show has a great cast, and the creators have wisely cast actors who fit the roles, not all beautiful super-models, so it feels a lot like what you imagine real prison to be like. It’s a fun show with some great dramatic moments, and I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit so far. Now those of you who don’t have Netflix can get caught up on Season Two.
I can’t believe Boardwalk Empire is over already. It really feels like it just started, but it had a nice five-season run on HBO. This massive new box set collects the entire series for the first time, and it’s a good reminder that even at the end, Boardwalk Empire is fantastic. It’s the show as a whole that excels here; even with the fine performance by Steve Buscemi in the lead role, the ensemble cast really brings the world of early 20th-century Atlantic City to life. The show also manages to employ an equal number of likable and unlikable characters; not everyone is a bastard who we’re supposed to care about “just because,” as happens on so many “mature” shows these days. Boardwalk Empire looks and sounds terrific on Blu-ray. It really captures the feel of prohibition-era New Jersey. Colors are bright but not oversaturated, imagery is crystal clear, and contrasts are strong. Also, the surround soundtrack really brings the hustle and bustle of Atlantic City to life, with good use of surrounds and well-centered dialogue. This is a great series, and I’m glad to see it was a big hit for HBO while it lasted.
I was really excited to see Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man make its Blu-ray debut. This is a movie that came out right around the time I was able to start watching PG-13 movies, and I really wanted to see it back in the day, but I never did. Fast forward a couple of decades, and Id still never seen it when this disc crossed my desk. So I popped it in with gleeful abandone, and I have to say I had a lot of fun with it. It’s not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke make for a good on-screen pair of partners, and the film’s mix of action, sci-fi, and humor give it a really unique feel. For a movie that was a critical and commercial flop, it actually is well-deserving of a second look.
Welcome to Sweden: Season 1 – Amy Poehler’s brother Greg Poehler (I’m sorry, he will forever be known as “Amy’s brother”) plays the extremely likable lead in Welcome to Sweden, a fun sitcom about an American man who moves to Sweden to be with his fiancé, a beautiful woman from Sweden. Fish out of water hilarity ensues. Or at least, semi-hilarity. I like Welcome to Sweden, but it’s not what I would call a laugh out loud comedy. It’s more like a chuckle warmly comedy. But the show has its charms, and Poehler is one of them for sure, playing the out-of-sorts American to perfection. This is a fun show, I’ll be interested to see how well it does moving forward.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- The CW’s fan-favorite (but ratings-challenged) Beauty & The Beast: Season 2 comes to DVD this week. I’m not sure if the show is coming back for a third season or not, but I do like what the show runners did with the second season. I understand why the show wasn’t a slam dunk hit, but although season one started off slow, the show has really found its footing and mane some great story strides. Plus, Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan are still a great pair onscreen.
- Despite the cover art that conjure some sort of maybe science-fiction or fantasy feel, Leviathan is a straight up drama/political commentary. This Russian film tells the story of a man who’s life begins to crumble when his house is unlawfully taken from him by corrupt town officials. It’s not only a moving drama, but also a sharp insight into the state of affairs in the former Soviet Union these days. Be warned, though, while it is powerful, it is pretty heavy viewing. Probably not one for Friday night popcorn nights.
- I went to see Stigmata when it came out in theaters, and I will always remember that right during the film’s climax — where the preceding 90 minutes was explained — somebody’s baby started crying, which led to a shouting match between the parents and moviegoers sitting near them. It became so loud that I missed the entire explanation of the film’s events. Twenty years later, I finally got a chance to watch the film and see its ending, only to find out that by the time I got to the end, I just didn’t care anymore. Stigmata — which makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Scream Factory — does not hold up well at all. It’s a mediocre thriller at best, unfortunately,
- There’s a lot to like about Cymbeline, a modern-day adaptation of one of William Shakespeare’s lesser-known works that’s presented in a modern world/olde English style along the lines of Romeo + Juliet or Coriolanus — but only if you’re a Shakespeare fan. The film is well acted, fairly easy to follow, and the modern day trappings fit the story well; the problem for me is the source material. Despite the fact that i majored in English in college, I’ve never been able to become a fan of Shakespeare’s. No matter how his works are presented to me, I just can’t get into them. So despite the quality of the film here, I can’t actually say that I enjoyed it, but I blame that More on Willie S. than the filmmakers.
- Remember when the name George Lucas actually carried some weight in the movie world? Not anymore. Despite being touted as “from the mind of George Lucas,” Strange Magic was a flop at the box office, and hasn’t been given much more attention on home video, not even warranting a Blu-ray release. The problem with the film is that it just feels like something we’ve seen a hundred times before (most recently in Fox’s very similar Epic.) Add to that the fact that it’s a hardcore musical — as in almost the entire film is songs, rather than simply being punctuated by the occasional song — and the end result is a bit of a mess. Maybe kids will like it, but there’s not much here for adults.
- Matt LeBlanc and Ali Larter star in Lovesick, a cute little romantic comedy about a guy who goes literally insane every time he falls in love, going to extreme lengths to prove that the woman he’s dating is cheating on him. It’s not groundbreaking or world-shattering, but it is a fun, cute little movie. It’s a nice date-night-in movie for couples when they have nothing else to watch.
- Thandie Newton stars in Rogue: The Complete Second Season, an undercover cop drama. This is one of those crime shows that is perfectly fine, and I can see how people like it, but it just doesn’t stand out in a crowded genre. (Plus, the fact that I didn’t even know it was still on the air nor what network it airs on doesn’t really help matters much.) For those who have had their fill of Law & Order or CSI, this might fill a void, but I just don’t think it’s special enough to stand out.
- Midsomer Murders: Series 14 and 15 have now been re-released by Acorn Media. This time around they’re in slimmer packaging and put in the original UK broadcast order, which fans should appreciate. For those of you not familiar with it, Midsomer Murders is yet another mystery show from across the pond, but this show is more of a phenomenon than just a series, having run continuously for over 20 seasons. This very popular, long-running series is based on a series of novels by Caroline Graham, and while it is a police procedural, it’s a bit more Murder She Wrote than CSI, as the Barnaby family sometimes get involved in solving crimes, and the show eschews gritty visuals for a more down-home feel.
- Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Minnie’s Pet Salon is the latest collection of the hit kids’ cartoon. This one features five pet-themed episodes of the popular show. This one comes with a free pet comb packed into the DVD case, which is a nice bonus treat. Always a great show for the little ones, this collection will make a lot of little faces smile.
- The cover art for Roommate Wanted tries really hard to make you think this movie is a horror flick or a thriller. Instead, it’s more of a black comedy about two roommates who start to hate each other and then begin to try to sabotage each other’s lives, eventually devolving into out and out violence and destruction. It ha s a lot more in common with something like War of the Roses than it does any of the umpteen-million thrillers with similar cover art. I actually kind of liked it, And Alexa Vega and Spencer Grammar are both quite good in the lead roles — and, ummm, not exactly hard on the eyes.
- Earning the coveted “I’ve never raven heard of the this!” award for the week, CPO Sharkey: Season 1 stars Don Rickles as a gruff (but secretly warm-hearted) Chief Petty Officer at a Naval training facility. Newly under the command of a woman and with a bunch of recruits of varying ethnic backgrounds, the show is a spotlight for Rickles’ brand of put-down humor. What’s funny is that many of the jokes in this show probably couldn’t make it on the air today, which make it kind of refreshing. For a series that’s 30 years old, I have to admit, I enjoyed this quite a bit.
- Maya The Bee Movie is an animated film for pre-schoolers that mashes up A Bug’s Life, Bee Movie, Antz, and a few other animated movies, then takes out any and all of the scary or clever parts. It’s a perfectly cute little movie for the target audience, even if parents won’t find much to watch for. It’s fun, colorful, and has a positive message for youngsters, so parents can let their little ones watch it with nothing to worry about.
- Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty: The Plantagenets may have an unwieldy title, but it will appeal to history buffs. This true story of one of Britain’s most powerful medieval families is told over four parts that combines historical fact with dramatic representations, giving it a mix of documentary and narrative storytelling that keeps it interesting. I knew none of the story at all, so I found it fascinating to learn about a part of history I was utterly unfamiliar with.
- Western fans will be happy to see the Gene Autry Movie Collection 10, yet another release from the legend’s vault. This set features four fully restored films from Autry’s personal archives, including The Singing Vagabond (1935), Oh Susanna! (1936), Rootin’ Tootin’ Rhythm (1937), and Western Jamboree (1938). Whereas previous sets before this have focused on the ’40s and ’50s, this one stays squarely in the mid-1930s, with each film in black and white. With as many films as Autry starred in, this collection can go for a long time, but I’m pleased to see that Timeless Media is committed to keeping these sets coming at a quick clip.
- Team Umizoomi: Meet Shark Car is the latest collection of the fun show for preschoolers and young kids about math, numbers, and learning. The show it follows two little umizoomis around with their pet robot to help kids in trouble, and along the way they use basic math, matching, and geometry to help them. The show is bright, energetic, and colorful, and occasionally they mix in footage of real kids asking the Umis for help, which helps kids connect. This collection introduces a new character named Shark Car, so that’s a bit different than some of the usual episodes.
- On Wings of Eagles is a terrific TV miniseries from back in the days when TV miniseries were still multi-night blockbuster events. This one is based on Ken Follett’s bestselling book, and it tells the true story of how Ross Perot hired a team led by a retired military contractor to rescue two of his employees that had been taken to an Iranian prison after negotiations failed. It’s a gripping story with excellent lead performances, and it hearkens back to a time when movies like these were much bigger events than they are today.
- Are we over Duck Dynasty yet? I hope so. Duck Dynasty: Season 7 is more of what it’s always been: car wreck television. That’s what I call shows that are like car wrecks: you know they’re horrible, but you still can’t turn away. Duck Dynasty isn’t quite horrible, but it is predictable, typical reality TV fare. It’s basically like the Kardashians, just with a bunch of hillbilly, long-bearded duck call makers instead of semi-beautiful, vapid bimbos. It’s Swamp People crossed with Meet The Kardashians. If that sounds appealing to you, you’ll like this show. If not, well then, you won’t. It’s as simple as that. Duck Dynasty is simple reality TV, and I can see how it would become addicting if you watched enough of it. But I think I’ll skip on that idea.
- The Adventures Of Chuck And Friends: Day At The Races delivers almost two hours worth of car and truck fun for the pre-schoolers. Featuring 10 episodes, this disc kicks off with a race episode and continues with several more that have similar themes. This is a great show for the little ones; it’s fun and colorful and cheerful and not too much, so parents can feel good about letting their kids watch it.
- If you’d like to see the worst movie ever made, check out Camp Massacre. Although Bree Olson features front and center on the cover, and the movie is wise enough to start with an extended shower scene featuring her, she’s killed off in the first five minutes, and then the movie becomes “Friday the 13th at Fat Camp” (their words, not mine.) It’s not just low-budget, it’s no-budget. But worse than that, it’s mean-spirited, unfunny, poorly written, acted even worse, and just an affront to filmmaking everywhere. Ugh.