Fifty Shades of Grey –
I know the “in” thing to do is to tear down movies like this, but I enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey. Is it great moviemaking? No. Is it the kind of thing people will be watching 30 years from now? No. But as far as a fun way to kill two hours, I had fun with it. Dakota Johnson is terrific in it, and Jamie Dornan has the requisite charm to pull off what is one of the more odd leading men in recent memory. As for the vaunted sex scenes? Well, I think they did a good job with them. The film is steamy, there’s no doubt about it, and it doesn’t pull a lot of punches. It’s not hardcore pornography, but it’s definitely not PG-13, either. I think if you go in just looking for a pleasant diversion and not a great cinematic experience, you’ll like Fifty Shades of Grey just fine.
The Academy got a lot of blowback from the internet about Selma director Ava Duverney not getting a nomination for Best Director. Cries of racism and sexism were rampant. However, the truth of the matter is, DuVernay didn’t really deserve to be nominated. Selma is well-directed, sure, but there’s no style or creativity to it at all. It’s a straight by-the-numbers biopic-style film. There’s nothing about the filmmaking that stands out in any way. Now, you could argue that she deserves it for pulling such a great performance out of David Oyelowo — and make no mistake, he is absolutely brilliant here — but as someone who’s been a fan of his for over a decade, I know what a great actor he is. He would have turned in that performance no matter what. My biggest problem with the film is that it is, frankly, rather boring. Great performances, sure, but at over two hours long, I really struggled to stay engaged. DuVernay is a the;enter director for sure, but this movie just isn’t that great.
Just in time for the big screen Mad Max: Fury Road, Shout Factory releases an extra features-laden Collector’s Edition of the original Mad Max. Now, the film was just released on Blu-ray a couple of years ago, but this is the first time we’ve gotten the film in high def and all the supplemental features in one place, which include new interviews with Mel Gibson. Now, I like Mad Max, it’s a cool film, but I would have been much more excited if this was a special edition of The Road Warrior. That’s the chapter of the trilogy that really is the one I think most people love, and that’s because it’s a brilliant action film. There are few things out there like The Road Warrior, and I hope Shout Factory follows suit with another special edition of that superior film.
Boy, that Quinn Martin sure knew a thing or two about producing good television. Much like Irwin Allen was responsible for a lot of science fiction programming in the 60’s, Martin was responsible for some of the finest action/adventure television of the time period. This Complete Series collection of The Fugitive is yet another terrific set of fine television. Now I’ve watched The Fugitive before, and I enjoy the show. It’s a simple premise, but it clearly was the inspiration for a number of series after it, from The Invaders to shows like The Incredible Hulk and even, in my opinion, 24. The Fugitive: The Complete Series brings us the entirety of the saga of the wrongly accused Richard Kimble, and the show is as enjoyable as ever. Like many shows of the era, the series is formulaic, but it’s such a great formula that it’s hard to complain. While not every episode is a winner, more episodes than not are effective and suspenseful hours of TV. And then there’s that famous final episode, still one of the most-watched hours of TV ever. This is a great way to relive one of television’s true classic works.
There are few sitcoms as beloved as Cheers, the nine-year comedy saga of a bunch of regulars in a Boston bar. When you put it on paper like that, it sounds so simple and unimpressive, but Cheers was such a great show. It’s been a while since I’d watched any episodes so it was nice to get to go back through the seasons and remember why this show was so popular in the first place. What’s really nice is that the show really holds up well; while the hairstyles and fashions are dated, the humor isn’t. The characters are as lovable as ever, and even through the transitions (Coach to Woody, Diane to Rebecca), the show managed to come out on top every time. While the last season or two weren’t the best, there isn’t really a season that I would qualify as not good. This all new box set also includes a ton of extra features and is available at a terrific price, so there’s no reason not to pick it up.
I’m a pretty fanatical television watcher. Once I latch on to a show, I’ll stick with it through several seasons of mediocrity before I’ll finally give something up. Which is what makes Halt and Catch Fire such an oddity for me. Two episodes in, and I was completely hooked. Lee Pace is absolutely fantastic in the lead role, and Scoot McNairy is equally as terrific in the co-lead role. These are both actors I enjoy very much, and I was completely engrossed in this story about the dawn of the age of the PC revolution in the early 80s. But by two episodes later, I was completely bored with it. I don’t know what happened. It’s like they put all their energy into the first two episodes, and then didn’t have any left for the remainder of the season. Part of my change in attitude comes from the ever-increasing role of Mackenzie Davis’s character, Cameron Howe. She’s such a cliched character — the talented but hostile and misunderstood genius — and I really don’t like her at all. It’s a shame, because I was really enjoying this show in the beginning, but it lost me.
One of the buzziest shows of the last few seasons, Masters of Sex is every bit as good as you’ve heard. The show manages to be sexy but not sleazy as it tells the true story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who pioneered the scientific research into sex that defined an entire generation and beyond. At the center of it are Michael Sheen and Lizzie Caplan, who both turn in excellent performances. But the show really hinges on the writing; it manages to squeeze hard drama, humor, and hot sex all into each one-hour episode. While it’s not for the faint of heart, it’s an extremely rewarding show.
This excellent BBC miniseries is five-sixths brilliant, one-sixths baffling. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, John Goodman, and a truly exceptional Matthew Goode (Watchmen), Dancing on the Edge tells the story of an all-black Jazz band in 1930s England. Just as they begin to reach the heights of popularity in a still-racist era, a crime happens which sends them into a spiral of mistrust, persecution, and mystery. It’s really engaging stuff, and I was so hooked on it that I binged right through it in one marathon session. Honestly, I really recommend it highly. The problem is that sixth episode; instead of the wrap-up I wanted, the writers introduced a whole odd subplot about a mysterious phone call and a potential world-changing conspiracy. I get that it tied in with the Masonic storyline from earlier in the story and perhaps was meant to foreshadow World War 1, but it was so jarring and out of place that it really killed the ending. That said, it’s still really good overall and a great mystery with terrific characters and top-notch performances and production values.
Lily Collins (The Mortal Instruments) and Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games movies) star in the delightfully charming romantic dramedy. The pair star as best friends (who we all now should be together) who are kept apart by, well, life. The film follows their lives over the course of twelve years, and it’s filled with moments both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Collins and Claflin are terrific separately but even better she they’re on screen together, but what the film does best is create realistic, relatable characters who go through things that real people go through in real life. It’s not entirely without flaws (Claflin’s girlfriend is a bit too clenched of a shrew), but I really enjoyed this film, and I think you will too. My only complaint is that it’s only available on DVD and not Blu-ray. Boo, Paramount.
Also available this week on Blu-ray and DVD:
- I’m not sure why Against the Sun didn’t even warrant a Blu-ray release (it’s out this week on DVD only), but it’s a really terrific film. It’s basically Unbroken except without the whole Japanese internment camp aspect, as three pilots go down in the ocean in 1942 during World War II. With almost no supplies, they must survive over a month on a tiny life raft. While it could be boring, it’s actually quite riveting, and with terrific performances by Tom Felton, Jake Abel, and the always-excellent Garret Dillahunt, it’s all the better. This is one that’s worth tracking down, even if it’s not available on Blu-ray.
- Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan star in The Last 5 Years, a musical in every sense of the word. This story of the start and end of a relationship is told almost exclusively through song, with almost no dialogue. Kendrick is terrific as always, but the film’s central conceit — her songs start at the end of the relationship and work backwards, his start at the beginning and move forwards — gets lost in the shuffle somewhat. As I’m not a fan of musicals, I can say that this one is actually pretty decent, but I would say it’s really mostly for fans of the genre.
- Extraterrestrial is a fun sci-fi creature flick about a group of teenagers at — where else? — a cabin in the woods who run afoul of a nasty bug-eyed alien from a crashed UFO. The film is mostly predictable and kind of by-the-numbers for the genre, but I had a lot of fun with it. The characters are just interesting enough to care about, the pacing is fast, and it checks off all the right boxes. Plus, I loved the ending. If you like good creature flicks, check this one out.
- Timothy Spall was nominated for an Oscar — and rightly so — for his performance in Mr. Turner. Now, I’m not familiar with British art that much, but apparently Turner is basically a household name in the art world. That doesn’t change the fact that the film isn’t quite my cup of tea. It’s well-made, excellently acted, and tells the story in an easy-to-digest way. But I found it slow at parts and not all that interesting at others. Still, Spall turns in the performance of a lifetime, so it’s worth watching for that.
- George Lopez stars in Spare Parts, a based-on-a-true-story underdog story that’s equal parts charming and predictable. We’ll skip the fact that the cover basically gives away the end of the film, but this is a fun and enjoyable tale of the high school robotics club that went up against some of the biggest tech colleges in the world at a national robotics competition. I don’t generally like Lopez, but he’s perfectly fine here, and Marisa Tomeui adds some nice spark to the film. The young cast is good as well, and the story really is uplifting, even if we’ve seen it a hundred times before. Worth a watch.
- Diana Ross headlines Mahogany: The Couture Edition, the story of a world famous model turned fashion designer and her rise to fame and domination. Billy Dee Williams stars as her romantic interest, while Anthony Perkins shows up as her nemesis of sorts, and it’s quite a lot of fun to see the three of them on screen together. The film is dated, sure, and it’s far from a classic, but I’d be hard pressed to say there’s nothing enjoyable about it.
- Jeremy Piven playing an American pioneering capitalist in turn of the century London? Sign me up for that. It sounds like exactly my kind of show. And I’m not sure exactly where Masterpiece: Mr. Selfridge Season 3 goes wrong, but it does. Piven, who is usually a great actor, is kind of terrible here. He says everything Really Loudly, and he puts on this smile throughout the show that feels purposefully faked but also awkwardly unnatural in a way it’s not supposed to. The show feels a little too much like it’s trying to echo Downton Abbey, and ultimately, it just doesn’t work for me.
- Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain star in Miss Julie, a period drama steeped in romance. I love Farrell and Chastain, and they’re what makes the film worth watching. I can say that it’s not really my preferred genre, and the film didn’t do a whole lot for me overall, but I enjoyed watching the pair onscreen together. People who enjoy period romances will probably like though, as it’s a well-made film.
- Dollhouse‘s Fran Kranz stars with Nikki Reed, J.K. Simmons, and Greg Kinnear in the oddball Murder Of A Cat, a mystery/comedy about, well, the murder of a cat. I really like the cast and the film isn’t bad, it’s just not great, either. It wants to be funnier than it is and it meanders a bit here and there, but it’s not without its charms. It’s basically a good flick to watch when there’s nothing better on.
- Scooby-Doo! 13 Spooky Tales: Surfs Up Scooby-Doo! is a terrific summer-themed two disc collection that gives us a new 22-minute episode and 12 classic episodes from various Scooby series. Each episode has a summer-ish theme, and it’s nice to see some of the true classics mixed in with some newer episodes. Plus, the all-new episode is both a fun outing and a nice bonus. A great pick-up for the kids.
- Okay, so if phrases like “the Duel Monsters card game” and “three legendary duelists who will do whatever it takes,” mean anything to you, then you probably want to pick up Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal: Season 1. You know, for the kids. Riiiight… for the kids. I don’t know much about all these cartoons (which makes me sound old even as I type it), but I know this show has fans that are kids and adults, so they’ll be pleased to see this.
- Even though the title makes it sound like some kind of feature film, Sesame Street: Elmo: The Musical 2 is really just a collection of seven Elmo-centric musical episodes of the beloved show. As with most Sesme Street episodes, you get learning, letters, numbers, and fun, and in this case, lots of Elmo and Music. With over two hours of content, you get a lot of bang for your buck for the little ones.
- I will not pass judgment on characters named Vingo the Bear and DJ the Dinosaur. I will instead tell you that Baby Genius: Favorite Children’s Songs presents cute little versions of popular songs like The Wheels on the Bus, Pop Goes the Weasel, Do You Know the Mufﬁn Man, and Take Me Out to the Ball Game as well as some brand-new songs. It’s good fun for the toddlers in your life.
- De Que Te Quiero Te Quiero has a lot of Q’s in the title, which I think translates to: “this is a four-disc collection of a popular telenovela about a young woman caught in a romantic quandary. It’s full of the typical melodrama, over-the-top acting, and beautiful women you’d expect from telemundo.