Not this biggest release slate in terms of the number of releases this week, but there is a good mix of box office hits, classic films, and miscellaneous offerings to keep you busy.
Get Hard – There’s really no reason on earth I should have liked this movie, but I did. It’s pretty lowest common denominator humor, and Will Ferrell does the man-child thing that he does for the 400,000th time. But despite an overwhelming number of prison rape jokes, I laughed throughout this movie. Not loudly, but I laughed nonetheless. And there’s a reason that Kevin Hart’s so popular, and that’s because he’s funny. He manages to once again border on being annoying without crossing over into that territory, and instead manages to be funny and endearing. Get Hard is one of those movies that delivers exactly what the trailer promises; if the trailer looked funny to you, you’ll probably enjoy the movie. If not, stay away.
While Were Young – My exposure to Noah Baumbach films has been pretty limited. I know he’s a well-liked filmmaker, but for some reason his films have always escaped my viewing schedule. While We’re Young is a pretty good place to start, then. It’s a pretty enjoyable film. The story is about Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts’s early-40s couple, who are feeling a bit stagnant in life. Their friends have babies, their marriage is solid but unexciting, and their careers are in a holding pattern. Then they meet Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried’s young bohemian couple and start to feel reinvigorated. I don’t generally like Ben Stiller, but he puts his rakish nature to work here. His character is likable enough, but he’s a real person, full of grouchy moments, sarcasm, and genuine uncertainty about how the world works. Naomi Watts is absolutely terrific here, while Adam Driver is extremely funny as the young filmmaker who doesn’t take life seriously at all. (Or does he?) Also, the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz shows up in a supporting role and is surprisingly good. The thing that struck me the most about the film is how much of it I related to. As someone who’s not too far away from the ages of Stiller and Watts’ characters, I totally understand most of what they’re going through. This is a film filled with realistic situations and well-drawn characters. But that doesn’t mean it’s overly serious. While it would be classified as a dramedy, there are a lot of laughs to be found alongside the emotional scenes. It’s actually a perfect balance.
Danny Collins – Remember when Al Pacino was considered one of the finest actors of his generation, and not just “hoo-ah!”? Well, he makes a good case for reminding you why in Danny Collins, a terrific dramedy about an aging rock star who discovers a never-delivered letter written to him by John Lennon when he was a young man. Inspired by Lennon’s words, he tries to turn his life around and reconnect with his family. I’m not saying Pacino’s going to win an Oscar, but he’s clearly having fun, and it’s the best role I’ve seen him in in years. Plus, he really nails the aging-rock-star onstage performances, combining a bit of Mick Jagger with some Neil Diamond. With a great supporting cast that includes Christopher Plummer, Bobby Cannavale, Annette Bening, and Jennifer Garner (not annoying me for a change), I have to say that I really enjoyed this film. I think you will, too.
Five Easy Pieces – I’ve been extremely vocal in my dislike of Jack Nicholson for years. I think he’s a guy who turned in two game changing performances 30 years ago (The Shining and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) and he’s been coasting ever since. And while I thought I’d seen all of Nicholson’s major performances, I had never actually watched Five Easy Pieces until now. The Criterion Collection has now released the film in a new edition (on both Blu-ray and DVD) and I have to say, I’ll now give Nicholson three great performances. I still think he hasn’t done anything good since, but at least this film still impresses. Although it’s a drama of the sort I don’t always love, the film is powerful and emotional, and Nicholson delivers. Pus, with restored and remastered sound and picture and a ton of new extra features, this is a must-own.
The Gunman – On the one hand, I was excited to see Sean Penn do an action movie. He’s a great actor, but he’s so dour and overly-serious that it’s hard to really enjoy him as a performer. So his bid for Liam Neeson-like action stardom here could have been a fun turnaround for him. Unfortunately (and not surprisingly since the film was co-written by Penn), The Gunman never really gets going. It’s slow and glacially paced, and even though the action scenes are solid, there aren’t enough of them. Plus, the film takes itself so seriously. While there aren’t a lot of lighthearted moments in the Taken films (and I’m admittedly not a big fan of those), at least they know what they are: dumb action films. They don’t try to be anything else. The Gunman does, and it fails.
The Decline Of Western Civilization Collection – You’ve probably heard of the original The Decline of Western Civilization. I know I had. The seminal punk-rock version of Woodstock has had a legendary status in music and movie circles since its release in 1981. What you might not have realized (I didn’t) was that director Penelope Spheeris also made two follow up films. Now, for the first time ever, all three films are available in an amazing new box set that brings these rarities right to your living room. These films have been very hard to find on home video over the past three decades, so this is something of a treasure. These concert/documentaries truly capture an age — an era, really — of music that we’ll likely never see again. Filled with performances by punk pioneers like The Germs, FEAR, X, Circle Jerks, and Black Flag, plus packed with interviews and footage of the scene as a whole, these are amazing movies whether you’re a fan of the musical genre or not. Plus, this box set comes with a 40-page book and a disc full of extras. You really can’t beat it.
Downtown 81 – Speaking of movies that capture an era, Downtown 81 is a fascinating cultural snapshot of the other side of the early 1980s. Counterculture legend and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat stars in this film, which less of a cohesive narrative than artsy exploration of the hip-hop scene in New York City in the early 80s. Filled with fascinating imagery, inimitable sounds, and even (acting) performances by people like Debbie Harry, the film won’t be for everyone, but it’s an utterly fascinating time travel trip back to another decade.
Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:
- The critically adored Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is an odd and endearing little film about an Asian woman who comes across a copy of Fargo and becomes convinced that the treasure in it is real, so she travels to America to try and locate it. It sounds like it could be either a comedy or a hard drama, but it’s not quite either. Instead, it’s a quirky oddity of a film that embraces multiple genres. Rinko Kinkuchi turns in an astounding performance in the lead role, and while I don’t thinks is exactly Friday night popcorn fare for the Michael Bay crowd, it is a rewarding film for those who like things a bit more challenging.
- You’ll look at the cover of Last Knights, you’ll see that it stars Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman, and you’ll want to watch it. Then you’ll watch it and immediately regret it. Granted, the last fifteen minutes of the tim have some cool action scenes, but everything up until then is S.L.O.W. A.N.D B.O.R.I.N.G. Seriously, this movie goes nowhere fast, and all you can think while you’re watching it is “Why isn’t this better?” A major let down.
- I can’t believe it’s take this long to get a proper documentary on the king of all daredevils, but I Am Evel Knievel is a terrific documentary about the man who put jumping motorcycles over tanks of water filled with live lions on the map. Featuring interviews with Knievel’s compatriots and celebrity fans (such as Matthew McConaughey), this is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a man who did what so few others have done, and became a household name while doing it. Plus, you get to see footage of some of his greatest feats, which many people like myself have only ever heard about. Very cool stuff.
- My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Cutie Mark Quests is the latest collection of My Little Pony cartoons from the current series. This five-episode collection includes the following episodes: The Show Stoppers, The Return Of Harmony, Part 1, The Return Of Harmony, Part 2, Cutie Markless Part 1, and Cutie Markless Part 2. As always, the show is humorous and smart, colorful and action-packed, and it doesn’t pander to its young audience. I’m not saying I’m suddenly a superfan, but I at least get what the kids see in it, which is something.
- I’ve learned that with Shout Factory’s horror imprint Scream Factory, you can usually tell what kind of movie you’re going to get by how many come in each release. Most of their single film releases are cult classics of the best kind. When you see two films included in one release, things get a little bit dicey. Ghosthouse/Witchery does not break this trend, giving you two mediocre horror movies from the 1980s for the price of one. And while you do get David Hasselhoff and Linda Blair in Witchery, lending it a certain amount of fun, these aren’t the kind of movies you’ll probably need to watch over and over.
- The sweeping Australian drama continues with A Place to Call Home: Season 2. Imagine an Australian version of Downton Abbey set in the 1950s and you have some idea what this show is like. While that’s not a perfect comparison, it does set the tone. The acting is uniformly terrific, the characters are engaging, and the show is — like Downton — more addictive than you would think.
- Bella Thorne, Drake Bell, and Rob Schneider lend their voices to Frog Kingdom, the latest animated import that’s been re-dubbed with an American celebrity cast. These quick animation flicks are nowhere near the quality of Disney or Dreamworks, but they’re cheap, fun, and little kids will enjoy them. This film borrows plot elements from The Prince and the Pauper and Aladdin, but I’ve seen worse.
- Imagine an art house version of Thelma & Louise — in German — And you have some idea what awaits you with Soldate Jeanette. That’s not an exact comparison obviously, but it gives you some idea of what you’re in for with this exploration of wealth, friendship, and society that focuses on two women from opposite sides of the economic spectrum. Not for the mainstream crowd, but a little bit of a gem for the art house fans.