Well, in the post holiday week, we’ve got the usual mix of movies, TV releases, and oddballs. Here’s a look at what hits shelves this week:
House of Cards: Season Three – Now that you’ve heard all the hype about House of Cards, the real question is, is the show any good? First things first: this is a political drama, and it’s heavy on the politics. If you don’t have at least a cursory interest in the goings-on in Washington, DC, you will likely get a little lost at times. But this multiple-character look at the machinations, backstabbing, dirty dealing, and corruption in our natiuon’s capital is engaging, engrossing stuff. At the forefront of it all is Kevin Spacey, who is far and away the main character of this multi-character epic. His character, Frank Underwood lets us in on how things really work in Washington. Quite literally, too, as he breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to viewers throughout each episode. And Spacey is magnetic here; this is some of the finest acting he’s done in years. Various other politicians (and their wives), journalists, and other people climbing the political ladder all make up part of the ensemble, and the whole thing blends together into an addictive, powerful show.
Maggie – This will forever be known as “the Arnold Schwarzenegger zombie movie,” but it should really be known more as “the Arnold Schwarzenegger drama.” Yes, Maggie takes place in a post-zombie world, but it’s one in which the situation is under control and life is somewhat back to normal. When Arnie’s daughter (excellently played by Abigail Breslin) is bitten and only has eight weeks or so before she turns, we see a family in turmoil. Schwarzenegger turns in one of his best performances ever, quietly understated and actually acting for a change. The film is muted, quiet, and dark; it feels much more like an indie than anything else. I wish it was a bit more engaging (the pace is awfully slow), but it’s an interesting movie nonetheless.
The Killers – The Criterion Collection releases a new double feature with Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers. This release includes two versions of the crime film: the 1946 version starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner, and the 1964 version starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. The two films are an interesting point/counterpoint to each other, as the first one is much more of a traditional classic Hollywood film, while the 1964 version is a more harsh and violent version. (Apparently it was originally made for TV but was too violent at the time so it was released theatrically instead.) I like the original version, but I enjoyed both of them. The disc also includes a ton of extra features, including a short film version of the story from the 50s by acclaimed director Andrei Tarkovsky. Very cool.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown – I’m a huge fan of the original The Town That Dreaded Sundown, a little seen cult classic horror gem from the 1970s. For my money, it’s one of the best horror movies out there; creepy, funny, and with some cinematography that stands head and shoulders above the other horror films of the time. So I was exited/nervous about watching this new remake/sequel, especially since it’s been on shelves for so long. But I was actually very pleased with the film, which takes a meta turn by working the first movie into the story of the second one. Like, the movie itself. Since the first film was based on true events, this movie picks up in modern day Texarkana where people watch the movie every year at Halloween. And then the killings start up again. Despite a few moments of gore that were a touch excessive, the movie doesn’t go too overboard, and it nicely plays homage to the original. Definitely one of the better horror movies I’ve seen recently.
Joe Dirt – Yep, believe it or not, Joe Dirt has never been available on Blu-ray. I know, right? A modern classic of cinema like Joe Dirt? Unbelievable! But now that there’s a sequel in the works, Sony has dropped the original film in high definition. Now 50% dirtier! I wasn’t a huge fan of this film when it first came out, and watching it again, my opinion hasn’t changed much. It’s not like it’s a terrible film, but it’s not great, either. It’s just one of those mediocre comedies that we so many of in the 90s and 2000s. Plus, I find David Spade works best as a supporting player, rather than a feature star .But if you’re a fan, you can finally see it on Blu-ray.
’71 – This is one of those movies that you’ll only hear about a few years from now, unless you listen to me so you can be the one doing the telling, not the hearing. Unbroken star Jack O’Connell stars in this intense thriller about a British soldier stuck on the wrong side of IRA-related riots in 1971 Ireland. Playing out like a cross between Assault on Precinct 13 and a Bourne movie, ’71 is utterly gripping from the very first scene to the last There are several moments that will genuinely surprise you, and I’d be surprised if you can even pause the film to go to the bathroom. It’s that good. Check this one out now, or wait for three years down the road when your friend says, “Oh, man, you know what movie you’ve gotta see…?”
Bitten: The Complete Second Season – Genre hottie Laura Vandervoort stars in (and gets solo spotlight on the cover) SyFy’s Bitten: The Complete Second Season, an under-the-radar cult hit for the network. Based on the Women of the Otherworld novels by #1 New York Times best selling author Kelley Armstrong, Bitten is basically The Vampire Diaries with werewolves in the spotlight instead of vampires, but that isn’t a bad thing for fans of paranormal genre fare like me. I have to admit, despite a few cheesy moments here and there, I’ve really grown to like this show. The characters are good, the stories are compelling, and the genre mythology works well. A good summer fix for genre fans who’s shows are over for the summer.
Also available on Blu-ray and DVD this week:
- Slow West – Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee star in this western drama/comedy whose title is also a descriptor. The film changes things up a bit by introducing a wry vein of humor, but it is awfully slow moving for a while. Things build nicely to a climax, but it takes a while to get where it’s going. Just like the characters in the movie.
- Robot Jox – Stuart Gordon’s B-movie giant fighting robot opus has aged both well and poorly, making it even better and worse than it was when it came out in the 90s. On the one hand, the effects are dated and some of the dialogue is suspect. However, there’s an overarching sense of so-bad-its-good that makes out pretty fun to watch. The film makes its Blu-ray debut this week courtesy of Scream Factory.
- Merchants of Doubt – A fascinating documentary n the big business of misinformation and how people get paid to change the public’s opinion, MOD will really change the way you look at the world. You know how people will say, “Well, they say that…” and someone else will respond, “Who’s they?” Well, this movie answers that question.
- 5 Flights Up – Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton star in this lighthearted film about a couple trying to sell their in-demand Brooklyn apartment and the weekend they have while doing so. This is one of those movies that will laud descriptive words like warm, charming, life-affirming, and uplifting. It’s a good title film, but obviously it will appeal mostly to fans of things like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Last Vegas.
- Monster High: Scaris, City of Frights – The popular Barbie-as-monster-teenagers series returns with an all-new animated movie that sees the gang in Paris — er, excuse me, Scaris. While there, there’s the usual mayhem, fun, and teenage hijinks. I’m very far removed from the target audience for these films, but for what they are they’re pretty good. Plus, I like that Universal puts them out on Blu-ray and not just DVD like so many other studios do with kids’ releases.
- Deli Man – A fascinating and fun documentary about a third-generation Jewish deli owner and the deli world and people that surround him, Deli Man skirts the line between being honest/hilarious and annoying. A lot of it will come down to how much you care about a guy running a deli and the deli culture (which is more interesting than you’d think) and how grating you might his loud personality. Overall, though, I enjoyed it. It’s less a documentary than a character study.
- Alien Outpost – I really wanted to like this new film from Shout Factory’s horror/sci-fi imprint Scream Factory. Cool cover art, neat concept (documentary film crew following a platoon of soldiers years after earth has been invaded), sci-fi action… it’s everything I like to watch. And it’s not like Alien Outpost is a bad film, not at all. It just didn’t do anything for me. I found it kind of dull, and it’s almost like a found footage version of the underrated Battle: Los Angeles, just with way less action.
- Awaken – A bunch of strangers wake up on an island with no idea why they’re there? I’m sold. Add Robert Davi, Daryl Hanna, and Jason London to the cast and I’m definitely watching it. Awaken is a fun little B-movie thriller that reaches a bit higher than its grasp, and the low budget occasionally shows through, but as far as just being a fun little action movie, it passes the test.
- Stray Cats: Live At Rockpalast – This excellent three-disc set includes one DVDs and two CDs, with two performances in both audio and video mode. I love the Stray Cats and these two concerts were from the height of their popularity. You get to hear all of their hits, plus some well-loved rockers. The sets sound great, and it’s awesome to be able to hear the shows and then watch them on TV. Or watch them on TV and then listen to them in your car. And you can’t beat the value with three discs of content. Excellent.
- Echoes of War – James Badge Dale and Ethan Embry star in this pseudo western set in the aftermath of the Civil War. It follows the plight of two families struggling to get by and the bad blood that exists between them. Unfortunately, even at only 100 minutes, it still feels pretty long, and the story moves slowly. The performances are good, and people who like Civil War era stuff will probably like it, but it’s not for everyone.
- Fire Birds – Nicolas Cage and Tommy lee Jones star in this post-Top Gun helicopter movie that suffers from a much lower budget, a lesser director, and a much less charismatic actor in the lead role with Cage. Now, Cage has been a good actor in the past, but it seems like his idea for this character was to speak in a monotone as often as possible. Even the action sequences don’t really save the film. Still, if you’ve worn out your copies of Top Gun and Iron Eagle, it might be worth a look, especially at the budget price it’s been released at.
- No Good Deed – A much younger Samuel L. Jackson and Milla Jovovich star in this thriller about cops, robbers, and the unfortunate events that end up with a cop being held hostage by said robbers. Loosely based on a story by Dashiell Hammett and directed by Five Easy Pieces‘ Bob Rafaelsen, No Good Deed is a serviceable thriller. It’s enjoyable enough to watch, but it won’t blow you away. Good for those nights when you can’t find anything else to watch.
- Underdog Kids – I was hoping this family film about underdog kids learning karate would be good for my 8-year-old son, who’s in karate classes, but it skews just a bit older. I’d say it’s probably perfect for the 10-12 year old age group. Imagine The Karate Kid crossed with The Sandlot, and you get Underdog Kids. (Although it’s nowhere near as good as either of those movies.) Still, I enjoyed
- Barney Miller: The Final Season – I was never a huge fan of Barney Miller growing up, even though my parents used to watch it in reruns when I was young. I think it was a bit too adult for me to enjoy as a youngster, unlike some of the other comedies of the time. But Barney Miller: The Final Season collects the last single season of the popular show, and fans will be happy to have it on their shelves.
- Dark Summer – This slow-moving horror film stars It Follows‘ Keir Gilchrist, and the film plays out in a very similar manner to It Follows in terms of pacing and atmosphere, it’s just nowhere near as a good. The story is about a misguided teenager who sort of cyberstalker a girl who then kills herself and ends up haunting him. I’ll give the film credit for a ballsy final scene, but getting there is way too drawn out.
- Tooken – A straight up parody of the Taken films, I would have skipped this one if it wasn’t for the fact that Lee Tergesen has the lead role. As grizzled violence junky Brian Millers, he’s great as always, especially with his intentionally shifting Irish accent. The film itself however is far from great, although frankly, it could have been worse. At least it wasn’t just endless sex jokes like all the Date Movie films and their ilk.
- Touched By An Angel: Amazing Grace – This feature-length episode of the popular show is available exclusively at Wal-Mart, and it’s designed for those fans of the show who want to relive some of the most memorable episodes without shelling out for a full season. It’s not a show I was ever into, but it’s a good package for fans.
- Nickelodeon: Bunch of Playdates – This new three-disc set from Nickelodeon contains episodes from Dora the Explorer, Team Umizoomi, and other Nickelodeon hits, and it’s basically a big, value-priced collection for now that your kids are out of school for the summer. You get three episodes of Dora, three Team Umizoomis, three Bubble Guppies, three Fresh Beat Bands, three Go Diego Go’s, four Wonder Pets, and a few other things like a random Blue’s Room episode. There’s a lot to keep your young ones occupied, though, especially for the price.
- Yu-Gi-Oh GX: Season 2 – 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 the six-disc Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Season Two Box Set. You know, for the kids. Riiiight… for the kids. You know who you are. This collection includes a whopping 52 episodes.
- Archie Bunker’s Place: Season 1 – This spin-off from All in the Family was never quite as popular as its predecessor, but it was a well-loved show in its own right. When Archie Bunker buys a bar you get, well, you get Cheers with Archi Bunker. Carol O’Connor is great as usual, and while the show has aged, it’s hard to argue that there’s still a lot of fun to be had. This complete first season DVD set includes all of the episodes at a bargain price.
- Married With Children: Season 11 – Also out at a budget price is the final season of Married With Children on DVD. Finally! This was the show that wouldn’t quit, but you can now own every season on DVD, and the Mill Creek versions are all available at a a bargain price. By this late in the show, it wasn’t quite the powerhouse it was in the early years, but it also hasn’t aged as much because it’s a decade more recent than the first season.
- The Drop Box – This film is a moving documentary about a South Korean pastor who found a baby on his church’s steps one winter day and went on to spearhead efforts to protect and rescue abandoned children. It’s sobering stuff, but uplifting as well.