Avengers: Age of Ultron – I would love to say that Avengers: Age of Ultron is every bit as magical as the original Avengers. Unfortunately, it’s not quite… but it’s still pretty damn awesome. The film loses a little of the humor and a little of the charm of the first film, but the sheer spectacle is still there. I really like the relationships that develop — most notably between The Black Widow and Bruce Banner — and there’s a great subplot between Hawkeye and new character Quicksilver that pays off quite well in the end. And James Spader is absolutely perfect as Ultron. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what doesn’t live up to the first film here, but that shouldn’t stop you from seeing it. It’s still A-level superhero fun. STREETS ON FRIDAY, OCTOBER 2.
Poltergeist – This one of those remakes that I actually don’t mind seeing. The Poltergeist franchise disappeared in the ’80s, and aside from the first film, none of them are that highly regarded. I can see why taking the film’s name — which still holds every bit of pop culture relevance — and applying it to this new movie was a good idea. I’m actually surpassed it didn’t do better at the box office. It’s a solid horror film, and while it won’t replace the original, it certainly doesn’t sully the franchise name at all. Definitely worth a rental at least.
Entourage: The Movie – I loved this movie, but I also loved Entourage as a TV Show. And that’s really what this boils down to. If you were a fan of the series, you’ll love this film. If you weren’t a fan of the series, well then… why are you watching this? It’s really geared for fans, filled with cameos and appearances by characters from the past, celebrities, and such. And while it doesn’t require previous viewing to understand what’s going on, I just can’t imagine the film will do much for you if you aren’t familiar with the characters. That said, if you’re a fan at all — whether casual or die-hard — then this film is a lot of fun.
iZombie: Season 1 – Easily one of my favorite new show of last season, iZombie is absolutely fantastic. Considering that it comes from Rob Thomas, creator of the similar and similarly excellent Veronica Mars, that’s not really a big surprise. It’s also based on a DC Vertigo Comics series by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, but the similarities to that series are almost non-existent. But that doesn’t matter, because the show is so much fun. Rose McIver plays a doctor-in-training who becomes a zombie in modern-day Seattle and becomes a coroner’s assistant to feed her need for brains. But feeding on brains gives her flashbacks to the people’s lives, which she uses to help a police detective solve crimes. With a perfect mix of mystery, humor, and overarching story lines, this show is the spiritual successor to Veronica Mars in every possible way, and I love it.
Outlander: Season 1, Volume 2 – I’ve never read the Outlander series of books that Starz’s hit show is based on, but from hearing every blow-by-blow detail of them from my wife (who’s a huge fan) I feel like I have. That said, regardless of whether you’ve read the books or not, you’ll be hard pressed not to fall in love with Outlander. The story follows a World War II nurse who gets mystically transported back in time to the 1700s in the Scottish highlands. There she meets a man and falls in love with him, but what of her husband waiting back in the 20th century? While this sounds like it could be weepy melodrama, it’s anything but, filled with action, humor, romance, drama, and mystery. And with lavish production values, the show looks like a feature film. No wonder this is such a big hit for Starz.
Cop Car – Kevin Bacon and Shea Whigham star in this small, tense thriller that is a perfect exercise in 90 minutes of intensity and little else. Reminiscent of recent films like Blue Ruin, the story is extremely simple. Bacon plays a bad cop whose car is stolen by two young boys while he’s off burying a body. The bigger problem is what’s in the trunk of the car. The rest of the film follows Bacon as he tries to recover the car without any of his police brethren catching on to what’s going on. The film is short, intense, and utterly compelling, and it really doesn’t focus on anything beyond these events; there’s no backstory, no wasted scenes, nothing. This is a really enjoyable little thriller.
Christine – John Carpenter directing a movie based on a Stephen King book? Yes, please! Carpenter has long been one of my favorite directors, and while Christine doesn’t rank as highly as, say, Halloween or Big Trouble in Little China, it’s a pretty damn good film nonetheless. The gold0standard for possessed car films, the story follows a bookish teenager who buys and restores a classic car with murder on its mind. Yet, despite what could be considered a cheesy premise the film pulls it off quite well, with the ahem escalating as the main character gets more and more devoted to his killer car. It’s great to go back and revisit this horror gem or watch it for the first time.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- Aloft – Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy, and Melanie Laurent star in this new drama of sorts about a broken family, falcons, arts, and healing. Yes, falcons. The movie features a split-time narrative, jaunting between the past and present, and it takes a good long time before you’ll start to piece together exactly what’s going on. Unfortunately, despite some strong performances, this is one of those films which should be characterized more as bleak than dramatic, and it’s hard to engage with any characters or their situations. Not for me.
- The Bear – This new 25th Anniversary Collector’s Edition marks the debut of director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s seminal adventure film on Blu-ray. Filled with amazing “performances” by the animals in the film (and a terrific one from one of my favorite actors, Tcheky Karyo), the film is almost wordless for long stretches, and it eschews most of the touchy-feely stuff in exchange for a true animal adventure. Not a family film in the traditional sense, this is still a pretty great flick for families to watch together.
- Jane the Virgin: Season 1 – I wanted Jane the Virgin to be the next Ugly Betty. I loved that show, and this one seemed like it might have similar sensibilities. And while it’s not exactly polar opposites, it doesn’t capture what made Ugly Betty so special, either. The story of a young woman determined to wait until marriage to have sex who gets accidentally inseminated by her doctor, the show is quirky and fun, even it doesn’t end up quite being must-watch TV for me.
- The Slap – You might remember the short-lived American series of the same name. Or, more likely, you probably DON’T remember it, because it disappeared as quickly as it showed up. This Australian miniseries starring Melissa George and Jonathan LaPaglia won multiple awards in its Native country, and for good reason; it’s really good. Following the fallout from a man slapping a neighbor’s child at a barbecue, everything that looked terrible about the American remake works here, from the performances to the social commentary. Very interesting stuff.
- Black Coal, Thin Ice – I hadn’t seen a Chinese version of a film noir before, until I ran across Black Coal, Thin Ice. While the story of this film follows a Disgraced Police Officer trailing a killer from the past. It’s a sold story, but the director is much more interested in mood and atmosphere than story, and the result is mixed. It’s not a bad film, and I appreciate the attempt at artistry, but this is one case where less isn’t more.
- Unexpected – How I Met Your Mother‘s Cobie Smulder stars in this unexpected-pregnancy dramedy about a teacher struggling with her pregnancy at the same time that one of her high school students becomes pregnant. It’s a wonderful little film that features realistic characters and moments of laughter right next to mementos of genuine heartfelt drama. This one of those little gems that’s worth checking out.
- Deutschland 83: Season One – I had no idea this TV show even existed, but it’s actually pretty intriguing stuff. Set in 1983 at the height of the cold war, the show focuses on a young East German man who goes undercover in West Germany to spy on missile placements and ends up involved in the youth movement. The typical undercover conflicts arise, but this isn’t a show that’s groundbreaking in plot terms. However, it does feature a strong performance by lead actor Jonas Nay and some tense and gripping moments. Worth a look if you don’t mind a show in a foreign language.
- George Gently: Series 7 – George Gently is a British mystery show that has run for several seasons. This 90-minute cop show is set in 1960s England (on the eve of the 1970s with this season), and it’s pretty interesting stuff. The period trappings will make it more interesting to some viewers and less interesting to others, but overall I do like the show. This is a solid series with good performances and interesting cases that bring the societal aspects of 1960s Britain into the workings of the show, but I don’t find it to be quite as engaging as some other British cop shows. What makes the show work the best is Martin Shaw, who plays the titular character. Along with his “sidekick” Lee Ingleby, Shaw is the heart and soul of the show, and he brings that mix of solemnity and charm to his role. The two work together well and it’s easy to see why fans keep coming back for more.
- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Tiger-tastic 3 Pack – Another month, another Daniel Tiger DVD! This latest collection features three discs’ worth episodes of the popular PBS kids’ show, with the usual lessons and social learning themes taking the forefront, of course. This DVD set makes for a great treat for the kiddies, and at a nice, low price.
- Monster High: Boo York, Boo York – The popular Barbie-as-monster-teenagers series returns with an all-new animated movie that sees the gang in New York — er, excuse me, Boo York. 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.
- Great Performances: Driving Miss Daisy – While the Oscar-winning film Driving Miss Daisy is what most people think of when Miss Daisy comes up, the movie was actually based on a play originally. This excellent PBS release returns the story to its original format, with James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury in the lead roles. A filed version of the theatrical stage play, there’s a reason this release has been put under the Great Performances banner; Jones and Lansbury are utterly terrific. If you liked the movie, you should definitely check out this alternate take on the classic story.
- The Duke Of Burgundy – “Sex, bondage and butterflies” goes the tagline for this erotic drama, and it’s pretty accurate. However, far from a Cinemax-style low-grade soft core porn, this film is art house all the way. Despite copious amounts of sex and bondage, there isn’t even any nudity in it. The performances are strong, but the pace is slow; make sure you go into this movie for art house trappings and not titillation, or else you’ll be very disappointed.