While this is kind of a light week in terms of big releases, there’s a pretty wide variety of titles available to choose from. Here’s what’s on tap this week:
Project Almanac – I had a lot of fun with this found footage time-travel flick. While I generally don’t care for found footage movies, this one won me over with a clever plot, likable characters, and a style that played pretty fast and loose with the found footage format (meaning the filmmakers weren’t slavish to it.) What happens when a bunch of teenagers discover a time machine? Well, things start to go wrong, naturally. But the film plays it smart, and mixes up these kids trying to change things of importance with, you know, winning the lottery and buying a Ferrari. There’s nothing groundbreaking going on here, but it’s a fun way to kill 90 minutes.
The Duff – It’s sad to me that the kids who are watching this movie today will probably have never heard of the original film, She’s All That. Okay, The Duff isn’t technically a remake of She’s All That, but… let’s be honest. They’re pretty much the same film. That’s not to say The Duff is bad. It’s not. It’s light, frothy fun, much in the way She’s All That was twenty years ago. I like Robbie Amell as the big man on campus, and Mae Whitman is good as the DUFF in question. (In case you don’t know, The DUFF stands for The Designated Ugly Fat Friend, something all pretty girls supposedly have.) I’ve seen better, I’ve seen worse.
The Last Ship: Season 1 – One of my favorite shows of last year is now out on DVD and Blu-ray. Now, I’ll admit, I’m already a huge fan of anything that takes place in a dystopia or post-apocalyptic situation. And while this show doesn’t quite get that far, it does take place as a virus is killing off 95% of the world’s population. We follow the crew of a Navy ship that is one of the last unaffected places on earth. Now, don’t let the words “Produced by Michael Bay” scare you off; this show is fantastic. It plays out like a big-budget blockbuster every week, yet still takes the time to give you characters you’ll really enjoy watching. A smart, tense, thriller in serialized format, I can’t recommend this show highly enough.
The Last Unicorn: The Enchanted Edition – The Last Unicorn is one of my treasured childhood memories, so of course I was thrilled when this new Blu-ray edition came across my desk. I’m happy to report that, while it isn’t quite as magical as it was when I was seven, I still really enjoy this movie. Yes, it’s a little bit slower than I remember it and yes, the music by America is far from the highlight of the film, but I still really enjoyed it. I found that I still get caught up in the parts of the film I got caught up in as an excitable youth. Schmendrick and Molly and Amalthea are still characters that I care about and want to see happy endings for. That’s pretty impressive for an animated film that’s two and a half decades old. Rankin/Bass Animation might not be a force in the industry anymore, but they made some quality animation back in the day. Oddities and all, The Last Unicorn is still a magical piece of my childhood, and people like me who are a little hesitant to revisit it will be pleased to know that there is still much joy to be found in this enchanted adventure.
Thunderbirds: The Complete Series – Of all the Gerry Anderson Supermarionette TV shows, none were as popular or famous as The Thunderbirds. Still well-loved to this day, the show followed a team of agents that went around in their super vehicles saving the world every week. It was super cheesy but also lots of fun, and it captured the imagination of a generation of children. Even to this day, the show is incredibly popular. Amazingly, despite several DVD releases, the show has never been released in high def, making this new Blu-ray edition a real treasure. Packed with cool extra features to boot, this set is a Thunderbirds fan’s dream.
Sleepaway Camp II and III – I have a strange love affair with the original Sleepaway Camp, a B-movie horror cult classic that I first saw in high school. However, I’d never tracked down the sequels before now, so I was extremely excited to see them get Blu-ray releases from Shout Factory’s top-notch Scream Factory imprint. Watching them for the first time, I was surprised to see that Sleepaway Camp II really holds up as a terrific ’80s slasher flick; it’s almost as good as the first film. Sleepaway Camp III stumbles, however. I’m not sure what it is, but it just doesn’t work as well for some reason. Still, these are a lot of fun and a great way to complete your Sleepaway Camp Blu-ray collection.
Debug – Stargate Atlantis‘s David Hewlett wrote and directed this tense sci-fi thriller starring Game of Thrones‘ Jason Momoa (also Hewlett’s co-star on Stargate.) It’s the story of a group of computer criminals in the future who find themselves on a derelict spaceship with a murderous AI (played with devilish glee by Momoa.) Hewlett knows his way around sci-fi well, and also crafts a taut story as this disparate crew tries to survive. This is one of those fun little underseen science fiction gems that’s worth watching.
Also on DVD & Blu-ray this week:
- Red Army is a terrific new documentary focusing on the Soviet hockey team if the 1980s that dominated the sport the world over. The best thing about this film is that if you’re not a hockey fan [raises hand], you’ll still enjoy this film, as it’s a well-crafted and engaging story, filled with colorful real-life characters. Worth watching for sure.
- Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in Serena, a frontier-era drama that has been sitting on the shelves for a few years. After watching it, I can see why. While the film isn’t nearly as bad as some critics would have you believe, it’s just not terribly good, either. Lawrence and Cooper are good as always, but even they don’t seem to be giving their best here. I’ve seen worse films, but I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to catch this one.
- After awhile, it really gets hard to talk about shows from the 80’s without discussing how well they’ve aged. Take Hart to Hart: The Final Season, for example. It was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid, but it just doesn’t quite seem to grip me the same way it did back then. Sure, some of the murder mysteries still hold up, but I can’t say I’m that engrossed by the show anymore. It’s not that it’s bad, it just seems to lack that ‘oomph’ it had back in the day. On the plus side, there are a few things I still enjoy about the show. Robert Wagner has long been a television favorite of mine, and I still enjoy his performances here. I also like how the Harts were a super rich couple who solved crimes; it’s a nice break from the rough-and-tumble private eye or undercover cops that were so prevalent in the 80’s. The show was kitschy, but it knew it and that was part of the charm.
- The Facts of Life was a fact of life for just about anybody who grew up in the 80’s; I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who couldn’t sing (or at least hum) the opening song. While the show hasn’t aged all that well, there are glimmers of what made it so popular here. The show did tackle some decently After School Special-type topics, such as teenage sex, shoplifting, teen marriage, and even homosexuality, so it wears its morals on its sleeves, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Still, despite all the flaws, it’s still a fun show and a great nostalgia trip, and The Facts of Life: Season Six will make many fans happy.
- The CW’s latest vampire-themed hit comes to disc with The Originals: Season 1, a spin-off of their other hit vampire show, The Vampire Diaries. The Originals is the perfect kind of spin-off because it retains the flavor of the original series yet feels like its own show, it ties in to TVD without requiring you to watch TVD to understand it, and it’s relatively well put together in its own right. If you missed season two on TV, get caught up now before Season Three starts.
- I’ve been a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since their early days as a black-and-white comic book aimed at adults, and I’ve never let go of that fandom. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the current Nickelodeon show is the best version of the Turtles I’ve seen in over 20 years. It manages to find inspiration in the original comic books, infuse some flavor of the original cartoon, capture some of the feel of the movies, and even give it a bit of a video game flavor. It takes all of the best and various versions of the Turtles and mashes them up into one utterly terrific show, packed with action and filled with humor. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Pulverizer Power gives six episodes that all flow together but also stand up on their own. In short: I LOVE THIS SHOW!
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: NYC Showdown & The Search for Splinter are two separate TMNT releases also out today. These two DVDs represent story arcs from the 2002 – 2003 animated Turtles series. This one is sort of an oddity for me. It’s not the worst Turtles adaptation I’ve seen, but it’s certainly not the best. The two stories here are NYC Showdown (loosely based on the classic Return to New York storyline in the comics) and The Search for Splinter, which finds the turtles… well, searching for Splinter. I was glad to see these because I don’t have much from that series, but I wish it was a complete series collection instead of just two story arcs.
- In case you’ve been missing Chuck Norris’s hit TV character, Walker Texas Ranger: Standoff presents one of the show’s two-hour episodes that are now being released as a series of stand-alone movies. This latest DVD is currently exclusively available at Wal-Mart, and is a nice treat for Walker: Texas Ranger fans. If you already have all of the season sets, you won’t need this, but if you’re on a budget, these are a welcome treat.
- I know the Power Rangers franchise is still going strong, and I guess I can see why. Power Rangers Super Megaforce: Sky Strike has better production values (although not by much) than the classic series, and they still have that cool robot/monster/superhero dynamic that kids love. Now, instead of samurais, we have the Megaforce. Yippee. The addition of special power force cards and megazords makes this series seem like it’s trying to cash in on the whole trading card game craze (like Pokemon and such.) Kids will probably like that, and parents will probably not. Because I’m sure it will cost money. You get a four-episode collection on this DVD, and I’m sure a lot of kids will be excited about that. But still, as an adult, it’s hard to get caught up in this show, even as someone who likes robots, superheroes, and monster
- I’ve written in previous reviews how much my kids enjoy Scholastic’s animated DVDs, but Scaredy Squirrel & Bink & Gollie Double Feature is doubly well liked in my house, as these are two of the stories that my kids love in both animated and book format. If you’re not familiar with Scholastic’s terrific kids’ DVDs, they basically take well-loved (and some more obscure) children’s storybooks and bring them to life via animation, narration, and music. Each one is usually 5-10 minutes, and this collection includes a couple of stories each from the excellent and funny Scaredy Squirrel series and the cute and lighthearted Bink & Gollie series.
- Lifetime isn’t exactly the most ethnically-diverse network out there, but they work to correct that a little with the Pastor Brown/Sins of the Mother double feature. Collectively featuring some serious star power in the form of Michael B. Jordan, Ernie Hudson, Tisha Campbell-Martin, Jill Scott, and Nicole Beharie, these are essentially your typical Lifetime TV-movie dramas with a slightly different flavor.
- Have kids who want to go see Jurassic World but are way too young? Check out Back to the Jurassic, a new kids animated film featuring voices by Jane Lynch, Melanie Griffith, Rob Schneider, Pamela Aldon, John DiMaggio, William Baldwin, and Stephen Baldwin. This is one of those foreign animated movies that have been dubbed into English with an all-star cast (they come out about once a month now) and it’s geared for younger kids, but it’s not terrible and the voice cast does a great job.
- Charles S. Dutton, Tatyana Ali, and Loretta Devine star in Comeback Dad, a drama about a woman trying to cope when her alcoholic father re-enters her life as she’s about to get married. While it’s not really my kind of film, I can say that the performances are terrific, and if you like a good, solid drama, this certainly fits the bill.