Furious 7 – I can’t help but think that if you watch Furious 7 and don’t like it, then you probably shouldn’t have been watching it in the first place. And what I mean by that is this: these movies do a very particular thing, and they do it extremely well. If you haven’t figured out by now whether you like them or not, you probably don’t. If you like the previous films, there’s absolutely no reason on earth you shouldn’t like this one. Me, I loved it. The action scenes are incredible, the dialogue is incredibly bad (as usual), and Jason Statham makes a kick-ass villain. Of course, the shadow of Paul Walker’s death hangs over this film, and it makes for much bigger emotional punch than usual. I always liked Paul Walker; he was never the greatest actor in the world, but he really did fit so well into the Fast and Furious universe. The film doesn’t shy away from his tragic death, either; the end of the movie pays nice tribute to him, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get teary-eyed while watching it. Luckily, that sadness doesn’t take away from the film’s overall mood and enjoyment. It’s easy to get lost in the bombastic action and enjoy it for what it is: an over-the-top action movie that pulls out all the stops and then some.
Cinderella – Disney’s live-action Cinderella was a box office hit and deservedly so; it’s an interesting and enjoyable take on a classic story we all know and love. Downton Abbey‘s Lily James is in top form in the lead role, but it’s Kenneth Branagh behind the camera that gives this film its best qualities. The direction is sure and solid, and the film looks spectacular. It stays true to the origin tale but also spins its own unique flavor, and I have to say that it’s pretty darn good overall.
Love & Mercy – John Cusack and Paul Dano play The Beach Boys’ troubled mastermind Brian Wilson at different periods of his life in this sharp biopic. Dano plays young Wilson at the height of The Beach Boys’ fame, while Cusack plays the much older Wilson whose life is falling apart as he is under the dubious care of a manipulative psychiatrist. Elizabeth Banks co-stars as the woman who helps save Wilson in his later years. Dano and Cusack are both excellent, although I think it’s actually Elizabeth Banks who gets the highest marks. This isn’t an all-encompassing birth-to-today biopic, but it is a fascinating and engaging look at the troubled mind of a genius.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst – One of the most fascinating TV shows I’ve seen in years, The Jinx is a true crime documentary that was too compelling and complex to fit into a regular-length film. Over the course of six episodes, we learn the bizarre history of millionaire Robert Durst, a real character of a man who is suspected of killing three people over the past 30 years. Playing out like a filmed version of the hit podcast Serial, this is riveting stuff. Every time you think you know where the story is going, another twist comes along. This is show you simply have to watch.
Aquarius – Boy, did I really want to like this show more than I did. As a long time X-Files fan, I’ll always watch anything that David Duchovny stars in, and I love the idea of presenting a fictionalized look at the rise of Charles Manson. And it’s not that Aquarius is a bad show, it’s just not great. Duchovny does what he always does, but the problem is more in the show itself. The pacing is really slow, and there is a severe lack of characters that you can get emotionally attached to. I really wanted to get hooked on a new crime show, but this one isn’t it.
The Big Bang Theory: Season Eight – One of television’s funniest shows returns to Blu-ray and DVD with The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Eighth Season. I’m still amazed that this show is such a big hit, because some of the humor is so intellectual and so over the heads of pretty much any other sitcom on TV. Of course, that’s why I enjoy it so much, but I’m really surprised that enough other people find it enjoyable to keep it on the air. Go, smart America! Season Eight doesn’t see too much change in the way of cast dynamics or storylines. But this show does what it does so well that you don’t really need massive change for it to be awesome. Even if you watched every episode as it aired (like I did), this is still a set worth owning, because this show is still funny on repeat viewings.
Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles Complete Collection – The next iteration in the Lego Star Wars series is out, and this time, it’s a series of three episodes that aired on Disney XD. As with the previous Star Wars Lego mini-movies, these specials are out-and-out comedy. If goofy takes on the Star Wars universe make you cringe with fanboy dread, then these probably aren’t for you. If, however, you can appreciate a good parody once in a while, you’ll like these one a lot. There are a lot of in-jokes for Star Wars fans and a lot of broad hour for the kids. Plus, the animation and design of the Star Wars universe in Lego bricks are amazing. As long as they keep making these Lego Star Wars movies, I will keep watching them.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Season 15 – I like CSI, but I’m not the world’s biggest fan. I think it’s a good show, but I don’t watch it every week; I usually wait for the DVDs and just catch up from there. Season 15 sees the show finally end its run. The episodes are solid, but not great. And hey, I understand that by 15 seasons in… well, let’s face it, not a lot of shows make it to a fifteenth season. As a casual fan myself, I’m pretty impartial to the show ending. Ted Danson is pretty good on the show, so even if it isn’t the CSI of old, it’s still pretty entertaining, but it’s not like I’m going to be mourning its loss.
- CSI: Cyber, Season 1 – Out with the old, in with the new. I suppose in theory this is a good idea, as cybercrime is all too real nowadays and there aren’t really any shows about it on TV right now. I wish I liked it more, though. I mean, it’s perfectly fine as far as procedurals go, but I don’t really like Patricia Arquette in the lead role and I’m a little tired of CSI/NCIS shows by now. That said, I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse.
- Sisters: Seasons One & Two – Take a trip back to the ’90s with this first two-season collection of the popular drama that starred Swoosie Kurtz and Sela Ward. While ultimately a family drama, this show was anything but typical, as it featured regular flashbacks to the four sisters as teenagers, and even interaction between the adult women and the teenage versions of themselves. It’s a perfect show for fans of similar fare like Thirtysomething and Once and Again.
- The Bold Ones: The Protectors, The Complete Series – This DVD collects the entire one season of a show I’d never heard of. I don’t say that to be rude, I’d just simply never heard of this show. This show stars Leslie Nielsen in a rare dramatic role as a chief of police in a California town that’s in need of some strong leadership. While it’s obviously a little dated now, it’s a terrific crime drama that mixes police drama with politics and mysteries.
- The Returned – This short-lived series was one of several genre dramas that got canceled in the past couple of seasons. Like several others, this one had its feet in the genre world but was a character drama at heart. I’m not sure if that;s why it didn’t make it, but I suspect it had more to do with the fact that it’s a solid but unspectacular show. Dealing with what happens when the dead come back to life — but as themselves, not zombies — the show has some compelling moments, but it can also be a bit slow at times.
- Closer to the Moon – Two world-class actors — Vera Farmiga and Mark Strong — star in this unique based-on-a-true story dramedy about a group of Russian jews who are forced to re-enact the bank heist they pulled off for a propaganda film before their execution. The performances are strong, but the film’s tone is uneven and it never quite delivers the way you want it to. Still, Farmiga and Strong are terrific together, so that alone makes it worth a rental on a night when you’re bored.
- Happy Valley: Season 1 – Despite a name that conjures images of Wisteria Lane, Happy Valley is a grim, gritty, and utterly compelling crime drama from the BBC. Sarah Lancashire turns in a blistering performance as a police sergeant whose daughter was murdered. When the man she suspects of killing her is released from prison and ambles into her town, things start to get really interesting. Six episodes long, the show can be disturbing and emotionally draining at times, but it’s also extremely rewarding.
- Midsomer Murders: Series 17 – Midsomer Murders is yet another mystery show from across the pond. Man, those Brits sure do like their cop shows! This very popular, long-running series is based on a series of novels by Caroline Graham. While this is a police procedural, it’s a bit more Murder She Wrote than CSI, as the Barnaby family sometimes get involved in solving crimes, and the show eschews gritty visuals for a more down-home feel. It still has some grisly moments, though. This newest collection is available on Blu-ray as well as DVD, and you get the usual four feature-length mysteries this go around.
- Van Morrison: Another Glorious Decade – This film isn’t a career retrospective of the Brown-Eyed Girl singer, but rather a look at a certain period of his life. After becoming a star, Morrison apparently took a few years off to recover from the excess of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. This movie, then, follows that period when he came back a changed man. You won’t hear his most popular songs, but you do get the usual studio footage and interviews with people who worked with him during that period. Best for fans of the singer; I don’t know if it transcends that.
- Frontline: Rape on the Night Shift – As with most Frontline investigative pieces, this one is well-researched and informative. It’s also more disturbing than most, focusing on the high amount of sexual assaults that occur in the janitorial industry against undocumented women who are afraid to go to police to report the crimes for fear of being deported. A tough watch, but if you can handle the subject matter, it’s worth watching.
- The Seven Five – This is one of those documentaries that works so well because it tells an incredibly interesting story that most people know nothing about. I had no idea there was a corrupt cop in New York City in the 1990s that used a group of crooked cops to build an empire based on crack cocaine. Apparently, it was a huge police corruption scandal, and I’d never heard anything about it. This film explores what happened, how it happened, and the ramifications of it all falling apart. Fascinating.