Here’s a look at some of the numerous movies I’ve watched over the past month or so.
Kingsman: The Secret Service – Director Matthew Vaughn continues to mash-up James Bond and superheroes with his latest effort, based on the bestselling comic book by Mark Millar. While it takes liberties with the story, the basic plot remains the same and it retains the cheeky humor and over-the-top craziness that was present in the comics. This movie is a lot of fun, packed with laughs and great action sequences, and it’s some of the most fun I’ve had in ages.
Apollo 13: 20th Anniversary Edition – A new anniversary edition of one of Ron Howard’s most well-loved and successful films, this new Blu-ray includes new extra features and a digital copy of the film for the first time. But all of that is window dressing for what remains an essential viewing experience. No matter whether or not you know how events turn out, and most of us do, the film remains gripping, heartfelt, exciting, and inspirational. This one is a must-own.
The Lazarus Effect – Despite a talented cast that includes Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters, and Donald Glover, this movie just falls flat. The story of a group of scientists working on resuscitating the dead who end up bringing back one of their own after a freak accident, there’s just nothing original or interesting about it. I really wanted to like it, but it’s just such a by-the-numbers horror movie that it’s hard to get even remotely interested in it.
Jupiter Ascending – I really like The Wakowskis’ films, even their less appreciated works like Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas. But Jupiter Ascending is a misfire from start to finish. While there’s no denying that the film looks astounding, it’s all flash and no substance. The chemistry between Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis — both actors whom I enjoy very much — is completely lacking, the story isn’t all that interesting, and Eddie Redmayne, despite having won the Best Actor Oscar this year, turns in a truly terrible performance. If you want some neat eye candy, this film will do, but beyond that, it’s a loss.
Justified: The Complete Sixth and Final Season – As I’ve mentioned before, I originally started watching Justified solely on the basis of Timothy Olyphant, because I think he is just such an incredibly cool actor. I didn’t even know what the show was about when I watched that first episode. (I actually thought it was a western; which ultimately, it kind of is.) Over the past six seasons, it became one of my favorite shows, even if its been a little uneven over its run. The sixth season was a nice return to form after I found a couple of seasons a bit disappointing, and this was a great way to end the show.
The Rose – Bette Midler turned her musical success into screen stardom with The Rose, her first headlining feature. A drama about fan, addiction, and the downward spiral that comes with both, the film features not only a rock-star performance (in every sense of the word) by Midler, but also a host of behind-the-scenes talent, including director Mark Rydell (On Golden Pond), writer Bo Goldman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and cinematographers Conrad L. Hall, László Kovács, Owen Roizman, and Haskell Wexler. New to The Criterion Collection, this new version is restored and remastered and includes a wealth of extra features.
Limelight – Also from The Criterion Collection, Limelight is Charlie Chaplin’s final film. In it, he plays an aging and formerly beloved vaudeville star, which mirrors his real-life status of the time somewhat. While not Chaplin’s finest work or his funniest (it’s more of a drama than anything else), it is still a terrific work and a rare chance to see Chaplin do something different. The film also features an extended cameo by Buster Keaton, marking the only time the two ever appeared on screen together. As with all Criterions, it comes with a wealth of extra features and has been restored and remastered. A must-have for Chaplin fans.
State of Siege and The Confession – Two more Criterion titles feature works from acclaimed filmmaker Costa-Gavras, political thrillers that continued the run of respected films that began with Z. Both starring Yves Montand and both featuring political overtones while looking at things such as interrogation, kidnapping, suspicion, and paranoia, these are two powerful works from a master of the form. As always, both films have been restored and remastered and extra features include news items that reflect the real life situations that inspired these films.
Teen Beach 2 – As someone who is admittedly a fan (or at least a semi-fan) of Disney’s mega-hit High School Musical franchise (and also the Camp Rock movies), I’ll admit that I actually really enjoyed the first Teen Beach Movie. It fit right alongside the aforementioned hits, and it was fun, filled with good songs, and had a likable cast. Surprisingly, I liked Teen Beach 2 even more. While retaining the silliness of the first one, it takes things slightly more seriously, lets some of the supporting characters shine, and features even better songs. It also comes with a friendship necklace that mirrors the one in the film. Your kids will ike this a lot, and you might be surprised by how much you do too.
Batman; Season 2, Part 2 – Bam! Pow! Zoom! After last year’s massive Batman box set that finally saw the entire original TV series collected onto DVD, Warner has been also releasing each season into individual half-season collections. This represents the second half of Season Two, representing some of the show’s finest episodes. You get all your classic villains like The Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, and Penguin but it’s before Season Three, which saw a sharp decline in the quality of the show. You also get the crossover episodes with Van Williams and Bruce Lee as The Green Hornet and Kato. While these shows represent a sharp contrast to what Batman is today, they’re so much fun you can’t complain.
Spring – A monster movie that is not a monster movie, Spring is more of a mumble core drama that has some creature aspects to it. Even that isn’t really a fair description, as the genre aspects of this movie take a strong backseat to the drama and the love story at the center of it. I love the concept of this movie, but I wish I loved the execution more. It’s just a bit too slow and subtle for my tastes, despite some strong performances from the leads, including Lou Taylor Pucci, who I like quite a bit. Still, fans of indie dramas will really enjoy it.
White Collar: The Complete Sixth Season – I wish I could say I was sad to see White Collar end, but I’m just not that worked up over it. This is another show that could have been terrific, but isn’t. Instead, it’s fine. it’s not bad, not great. I can watch it, but I don’t generally choose to. I don’t know why I can’t get into it more than I do, and I kind of wish I could, but it seems to be lacking something for me. Matthew Bomer is terrific in one of the lead roles in the show, and I like his co-star Tim Dekay. Plus, Tiffani Thiessen is extremely easy on the eyes. And the show is light and frothy and can be fun, but it’s one of those shows that I never feel the need to go out of my way to watch.
Transporter: The Series – Season 2 – I’m a huge fan of Jason Statham’s The Transporter movies, so I was excited to watch the TV series. And while Chris Vance is no Jason Statham, he does an admirable job of carrying this show. The series basically gives us hour-long versions and variations of the Transporter movies, in which our driver Frank has to deliver “packages” against scores of bad guys or other obstacles. I like the supporting characters and I like the action scenes, which are accomplished on a fairly low budget. This is a fun show for fans of the movies or even for people who have never seen the movies.
Doctor Who: The Cybermen – I’m a Doctor Who fan, but I’m more of a casual Doctor Who fan. I love the current series, and I’ve watched a bunch of the classic adventures, but if I’m being honest, the classic shows are more of a curiosity for me than something I’m really a big fan of. That said, I absolutely love this newest release from the BBC. Focusing on the Doctor’s second most famous nemeses, The Cybermen, you get two-part adventures with David Tennant, Matthew Smith, and Peter Capaldi, as well as a four-part adventure with Peter Davison, one of the classic Doctors. You also get a new documentary about The Cybermen, making this a great release for Doctor Who fans, even if you already own the more recent episodes.
Ripper Street: Season Three – There are two factors that add to my enjoyment of this show. One, I love anything that has to do with Jack the Ripper. And even though this show takes place months after the Ripper murders, the spirit of Jack lingers on almost every case. Second, Matthew MacFadyen has the lead role, and he’s an actor I like very much from his days on MI-5, my favorite of all the BBC shows. So put it all together, and you have a pretty good show overall. Ripper Street is enjoyable television, but it’s ultimately a cop show set in 19th century England. If that doesn’t sound up your alley, I doubt the show will do anything to change your mind.
Bonanza: Official Eigth Season, Vol. 1 & 2 – This set continues the release of this popular western on DVD. There have been a number of scattered episodes of this show released via independent studios over the years, but most of those collections have been quick, dirty, cheap cash-ins with no real merit to them. These two volumes collect the entire eighth season and then throw in a few great extra features to boot. There are also some really great guest stars in this set. Watch Hoss, Adam, and Little Joe help Ben Cartwright battle cattle thieves and old west injustice in all of its original glory. With a young Michael Landon and a (relatively) young Lorne Green in the cast, this show isn’t necesarily for non-Western fans, but it’s easy to see why it was such a hit and is still a household name. Bonanza isn’t for everyone. The show is dated, but it’s also classic. If you’re a fan, you’ll want to keep your collection going.
Little House on the Prairie: Season Six – Good night, John Boy! Take a trip back to the frontier with Little House on the Prairie: Season 6 – Deluxe Remastered Edition. This is this season of the show’s first release on Blu-ray, and with its remastered and restored picture, it has honestly never looked better. Plus, it’s Little House on the Prairie. What’s not to love?
Lovejoy, Series 6 – It freaks me out a bit to see Ian McShane when he was young. Like, even when he was young, he was old. That said, though, fans of his will be happy to see another collection of the popular hustle and con show Lovejoy: Series 6 hitting DVD. I’ve seen a few seasons of this show about a shady pawn shop dealer and his brushes with the law (and his quest for riches), and it’s pretty fun. This season sees a few cast members leave and a few new ones come on board, making it a bit more uneven than some of the previous ones, but it’s still good fun overall.
Jamaica Inn – An early work from Alfred Hitchcock, Jamaica Inn makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Cohen Media Group. While not quite the type of film that fans would come to expect from the master of suspense, it’s still a pretty good film from the golden age of Hollywood. Mor elf a drama with crime elements than a suspense or horror film, Jamaica Inn focuses on an innocent young woman who comes to live with her aunt and uncle, without realizing that her uncle is a pirate/criminal. It’s a period piece and Hitchcock’s style isn;t yet present, but it’s fun to go back and watch this early work from a master.
The following releases are all Warner Archive exclusives, available online via www.warnerarchive.com.
The Snorks: The Complete Second Season – The Snorks: they’re basically the Smurfs, but underwater. And I’m perfectly okay with that. The Snorks were basically the answer to the question of “how do we capitalize on the monstrous success of The Smurfs?” in the 1980s. Well, you make them different colors, throw them underwater, and then… well, that’s about it actually. Other than that, the show is pretty much exactly the same as The Smurfs. That being said, it was also one of my favorite cartoons as a kid. I watched The Smurfs, and then I watched The Snorks with equal fervor. Watching as an adult is, of course, a completely different experience, but it’s still fun to flash back to the ’80s and watch these fun little undersea guys.
Growing Pains: The Complete Fourth and Fifth Seasons – I wish I had more to say about Growing Pains on DVD. Released via the Warner Archive, Warner’s DVD-on-demand service, the show returns to DVD to satisfy that craving for the ’80s that some of us sometimes get. But sadly, it doesn’t entirely satisfy said craving. The show was huge back in the day, and it was one of my absolute favorites when I was a kid. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every single episode from the first three or four seasons of the show multiple times back in my youth. But does the show hold up these days? Not so much. Sure, it’s familiar and comforting to go back and visit with the Seavers again, and it’s fun to see Kirk Cameron before he became a religious zealot, but it’s not like I was sitting on my couch cracking up at the show. It’s fun and light and overall enjoyable, but it’s not exactly the high standard of comedy anymore.
The Lawman: Season 1 – John Russell stars as Marshall Troop in this classic western series that I can honestly say I had never heard of before this set came across my desk. It’s pretty typical western fare, with Russell as the tough-as-nails lawman trying to bring order to chaos. It’s a good enough show for what it is, but it’s clearly going to appeal mostly to fans of westerns and classic television. Guest stars include Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, Dick Foran, Wayne Morris, Robert Conrad and Adam West, who plays Doc Holliday.
Bronco: Complete Fourth Season – Another classic oater, Bronco was a more varied show, with Ty Hardin as the titular character who was involved in all sorts of adventures, even going so far as to take on missions for President Abraham Lincoln. I like this show. It’s still pretty straightforward, but has more of a touch of the offbeat to it. Guest stars include Efram Zimbalist Jr., Jack Elam, James Best, and Chad Everett.
Nixon By Nixon – A fascinating portrait of former President Nixon, this documentary compiles numerous sources that feature Nixon himself talking, taken from the notorious tapes that eventually brought about the downfall of his presidency. This is a film that doesn’t shy away from controversial topics, with Nixon talking about all sorts of issues of the day, inclsuing racism, women’s lib, the media, and so much more. This isn’t a flowery portrait, but a warts-and-all look at a complex and complicated man.
Spenser For Hire: S2 – Robert Urich shines in the second season of the quintessential Boston crime-drama, based on the works of Robert B. Parker. Along with Avery Brooks as Hawk, Spenser For Hire is a fairly typical show for its genre, but the charisma of Urich and the chemistry between him and Brooks really set it apart. I loved watching this show when I was a kid (probably too young to watch it), and I still really enjoy it.
NTSF: SD: SUV:: Season One – I don’t claim to understand most of what comes out of the world of Adult Swim these days, but at least I get NTSF: SD: SUV, even if I’m not a huge fan. A parody of your basic CSI, NCIS, Bones-type procedurals, the show is as if those series were written by a bunch of drunken frat guys. What it does have going for it is that every famous person you can think of guest stars at some point or another, whether it’s Ed Helms, Jeff Goldblum, Eliza Dushku, Mark Hamill, Bill Hader, or anyone else you’ve ever heard of. Mildly amusing, but not my favorite.
Dr. Kildare: The Complete Fourth Season – Even though this show aired a long time ago, you’ll still hear people refer to charming doctors as “Dr. Kildare” on occasion, and there’s a reason for that. And that reason is the show Dr. Kildare, which starred a young Richard Chamberlain as the original McDreamy. In this show, he plays a young resident who is learning the lays of the land from the hospital’s chief of staff. Sound a little familiar? (I’m looking at you, Grey’s Anatomy.) In all seriousness, though, while the tone and feel of Dr. Kildare are obviously quite different from Grey’s Anatomy, it’s not hard to see that Dr. Kildare was clearly the Grey’s of its day. I’m sure there was water cooler talk about the show in the early 1960s, when the show became a huge hit and made Richard Chamberlain a star overnight.
Wolfen – Following on the success of werewolf films like An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, Wolfen is a poor man’s attempt at a good werewolf film. It’s not a bad film per se, but Albert Finney is not exactly a likable lead actor and the film pretty much skips over any werewolf scenes whatsoever. However, the final climax, which features a number of real (and not CGI) wolves squaring off against our heroes is both tense and exciting to watch. So that’s pretty cool but the rest of the movie is slow going. Still, it’s nice to have it on Blu-ray for the first time ever.