What an interesting week. Not only is it the official first week of the fourth quarter (think holiday presents!), but it’s also the first week of October (think Halloween.) So we have the single biggest release week we’ve seen all year, a ton of horror movies, and even the first Christmas releases starting to sneak in there. Settle in, this is going to take a while…
Magic Mike XXL – While I’m clearly not the target audience for the Magic Mike films, I can appreciate them for what they are. I’m not huge Steven Soderbergh fan, but I enjoyed the first film well enough, although I think it could have been better in the hands of a less self-absorbed director. So basically we get that chance with Magic Mike XXL, which sees Soderbergh stepping back from directing. The result is a pretty fluffy, adrenaline charged paean to female audiences, and it — once again — works well enough. Women will enjoy it for what it is, and most guys will likely avoid it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Insidious: Chapter 3 – Not the same smash hit the first film was, Insidious: Chapter 2 was still a pretty formidable presence at the box office. Insidious: Chapter 3, however, came and went with almost no impact at all. Like the second film, Chapter 3 is a minor thrill ride that is okay but far from great. The film has some creepy moments, but by the end it all goes over the top and just loses anything that makes it scary. It’s more of the same: quiet, quiet, quiet… bang! It works well in that context, but you’re not getting much more than that. People who liked the first two will probably like this one, but I personally wish that the films were a little bit better.
The Leftovers: Season 1 – Two percent of the world’s population has disappeared. Was it aliens? God? Magic? Who knows, but that’s kind of beside the point of The Leftovers. While the premise makes the show sound like a genre series, it’s really less that than it is a conjecture on abandonment, loneliness, emotions, and doubt. This isn’t some X-Files rip-off “The truth is out there” show. Rather, it’s a “Will we ever know the truth? Probably not.” show. It’s filled with terrific performances, but I can see how it will turn off a lot of viewers. It’s a bit more like an art-house film in a weekly series format than a compelling, engaging TV show. I think some people will love it, while others will just be left scratching their heads.
The Following: Season 3 – One of the most visceral and exciting shows of recent years, The Following‘s final season is now out on home video, and it’s a great way to catch up if you didn’t watch it on air. Kevin Bacon’s weary FBI agent versus serial killers may have gone a little over the top at times, but it was still Can’t Miss TV. No one was safe, and this wasn’t a show that was afraid to take out main characters or go unexpected places. The third season offered up a new villain who was every bit as chilling as Joe Carroll, and the show set up story lines for years to come, which unfortunately will not come to fruition now that the show has ended. For my money, though, this show had a great run.
American Horror Story: Freak Show – After a second season that some fans thought was just okay, American Horror Story rebounded with a third season that won over viewers and critics alike. Season Four found itself somewhere in between the previous two for me. Of course, I may be prejudiced, because I have something of a phobia regarding circus freaks, so watching them in a weekly show was a bit disquieting for me. American Horror Story has been a huge hit for sure, but I think it appeals to a certain kind of television viewer. Fans looking for a quick horror fix will probably be disappointed, and viewers who shy away from really, really dark material will probably find it too intense. It kind of makes Dexter look like a sitcom. But for those who really like complex, layered, disturbing material, this season and this show will fit the bill.
My Own Private Idaho – A young Keanu Reeves and the late River Phoenix star in this film from director Gus Van Sant, before he started to veer into the weird-for-the-sake-of-weird territory he inhabits today. The film follows two young street hustlers as they navigate the world of the streets. Of course, since this is Gus Van Sant, one of them is a narcoleptic and one is the son of a politician. As with most Van Sant films, the narrative takes a back seat to atmosphere, but the performances here (yes, even Keanu Reeves) are what makes the film worth watching. The film has been released on Blu-ray for the first time courtesy of the Criterion Collection, which means the sound and picture have been restored and remastered, and the disc is loaded with extra features.
Tremors 5: Bloodlines – I love the Tremors films. While none of the direct-to-video sequels have come close to touching the cult-classic quality of the original film, they are still a certain amount of fun. Tremors 5 is one of the best of them yet, which sees Michael C. Gross’s Burt Gummer head off to South Africa to take on a graboid infestation, along with new character Travis Welker, played by Jamie Kennedy. This one sees the return of the original graboids as well as the spin-off creatures from the other sequels. It’s a bit of a mash-up of the previous films with a bit of a throwback to the original. It’s far from great filmmaking, but it’s a lot of fun for Tremors fans.
Gravy – Psych star James Roday directed and co-wrote this horror-comedy, and he knocks it out of the park. The story follows three hip young cannibals who take a group of hostages in a small, dirty restaurant with the purpose of eating them. But this isn’t some Rob Zombie-styled horror goriest; instead, it’s a sharply written comedy in which everyone has an opinion on pop culture, death, and Kevin Bacon. The movie is more funny than scary, but it has its moments of suspense and thrills. But Roday has wrangled a terrific cast of character actors and the script gets an A-plus. This is a fun one for fans of things like Shaun of the Dead or The Voices.
Air – I saw the trailer for this movie about a dozen times before I actually watched it, and every time I watched it, the thing that jumped out the most was the huge screen proclaiming that it’s “From the Creator of The Walking Dead.” Which I had assumed meant that Robert Kirkman had either written or directed the film on a break from his Walking Dead duties. Nope, it turns out he’s just an executive producer. Which is a shame, because it’s a solid little genre film that could have been even better had Kirkman been more involved. The story follows two maintenance men who are watching over the survivors of a post-extinction humankind in an underground bunker and what happens when one of their sleep units malfunctions. The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus co-stars along with Djimon Hounsou, and the film is interesting, but it takes a while to get going.
Penny Dreadful: Season 2 – You’ve probably heard of Showtime’s hit horror series by now, but if not, you’re missing out. This mash-up of The X-Files and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen sees a team of intrepid adventurers fighting supernatural creatures in 1800s England. With a stellar cast that includes Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett, Eva Green, and Billie Piper, and production values that make the show look more like a movie than a TV Series, Penny Dreadful is a terrific amount of fun. Dark fun, but fun nonetheless. Timothy Dalton is fantastic as usual, but it’s Josh Hartnett that’s the real surprise here. His wooden style of acting is gone, replaced with an easy charm and a depth that we’ve never seen from him before. All put together, the show is quite outstanding. Check it out.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula – I was a teenager when Bram Stoker’s Dracula came out, and it was exactly the kind of movie I could get extremely excited about. It was everything I needed to get my geek on in full force. Except for a great movie. I was eager to revisit Coppola’s film with the new Blu-ray release. I thought maybe I’d see if this was a film I could appreciate more as an adult than I did as a teenager. Sadly, I think I liked it even less this time around. Let me say that, visually speaking, the film is amazing. For a film school discussion, I think this should be a must. Coppola crafted an incredibly imaginative visual palette using old-style in-camera special effects, and between those, the sets, the costumes, the production design, and the editing, the film looks simply stunning. Unfortunately, it’s also stunningly boring. Keanu Reeves’ laughable accent aside, the cast does a fine job in their roles but the movie is just really, really dull. Despite the fascinating visuals of the film, I could barely keep my attention on the screen because I was bored more often than not. I just wish there was a better movie underneath all the pretty wrapping. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a seriously flawed film; something to be studied rather than enjoyed.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Complete Series – I’ve never really sat down to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. The few discs I’ve reviewed in the past were from the middle of the saga, so I basically had no idea what was happening, and as a result I didn’t really understand what I was watching. But I’ve continually heard good things about the show, and it turns out that all of those good things are true. The Last Airbender is a cartoon that’s perfectly acceptable for kids, but is clearly not just for kids. I knew that this animated series took itself just a bit more seriously than your average cartoon when they mentioned a dead mother and used the word “sexist,” all in the first five minutes of the first episode. The show manages to really balance out a sense of drama with some fun and silly humor, and then it mixes it some great action and fantasy spectacle as well. The result is a cartoon that’s fun, exciting, engaging, and really fascinating to watch. This show has a mythology all its own, and it’s coupled with an amazing design sense that makes it a real pleasure to watch from a visual standpoint. The story is better watched than read, but it involves four warring factions and the “last airbender” or avatar, who may be the key to ending the war peacefully. It doesn’t sound all that interesting on paper, but trust me when I tell you it’s extremely cool on screen.
Dead Rising: Watchtower – Jesse Metcalfe, Virginia Madsen, and Dennis Haysbert star in this surprisingly good zombie flick based on the hit video game Dead Rising. What makes it work the most is that it gets the tone exactly right; while it’s not a comedy per se, it definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously. The film takes a bit of a new tack on the zombie genre, taking place in which zombie outbreaks aren’t uncommon bit are largely policed by a drug called zombrex. Of course, thanks to a potential government conspiracy, an outbreak occurs, and our heroes must survive using their wits and whatever is at hand to create weapons with. I have to say, I really enjoyed this one.
South Park: Season 18 – I’ve never been a big South Park fan (Season 18 is out on Blu-ray and DVD this week), but I always give it a try when it comes out on DVD (or in this case, Blu-ray) to see what I’ve been missing. Everyone goes on about how great their parodies are, but I’ve never found the show that funny. And, well, I still don’t. They get their parodies on the air quick, but the show is still mostly just construction paper-looking cut-outs of kids swearing. Yay. I may not get this show, but fans will be happy to have another season’s worth of episodes to revisit. And hey, I guess that’s a good thing. Relatively.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- Manglehorn – Al Pacino turns in another performance that reminds us that he can actually act in Manglehorn, a quirky dramedy about an aging, reclusive locksmith who has to learn to live again when a new love enters his life while trying to connect with his successful son. It sounds like so many other movies of a similar ilk, but it’s got a much darker tone without being bleak or depressing. It’s hard to explain, but Pacino is terrific — as are Holly Hunter and Chris Messina. This won’t appeal to everyone, but for people who like good character studies, this one will impress.
- Batkid Begins – This moving documentary follows the story of internet feel-good story Batkid, also known as five-year-old Miles Scott. You probably remember hearing about this story in 2013, when the entire city of San Francisco came together to give a Make-a-Wish to a sick young boy who just wanted to be Batkid for a day. It’s an incredibly moving story, upbeat and emotional, and if you can watch this without shedding a tear, you’re made of stone. Hell, I’m welling up just writing this. This is one you simply have to see.
- Happyish: Season 1 – This show could also be called Funnyish, because that’s what it is. It’s not a laugh-out loud kind of comedy, but it is instead a cynical, realistic look at life in the age of the digitally obsessed youth when you’re a miserable 40-something. That are things about this show I really like (the skewering of the advertising world is both brilliant and accurate), but the existential angst gets to be a bit much, and some of the characters can be a bit grating at times. Still, while I didn’t think I was going to like it that much based on the first episode, it grew on me as I henge watched the entire season. So that says something.
- The Anomaly – Doctor Who‘s Noel Clarke stars in this sci-fi actioner, which he also wrote and directed. I’m a big fan of Clarke’s, and I love what he’s doing with indie-genre filmmaking. In this film, he plays a man who wakes up in his own body for only 47 minutes at a time. To say more than that would spoil the fun of watching the movie unfold, but by the end it all makes perfect sense. The film co-stars Ian Somerhalder and Brian Cox, and it’s filled with great action scenes and terrific sci-fi concepts. Definitely check this one out.
- Eli Roth Presents The Stranger – Eli Roth sure gets his name on a lot of movies for someone who’s only actually directed four actual films. The new horror movie that he produces is actually written and directed by Guillermo Amoedo (Aftershock, The Green Inferno, Knock Knock). I haven’t seen The Green Inferno or Knock Knock yet, but I did really enjoy Aftershock, which Roth also starred in. Roth and Amoedo clearly work well together, and this new twist on the vampire story (which never actually goes out and says it’s dealing with vampires) is a pretty cool little flick. It’s not the defining vampire saga, but it’s worth a look.
- Reign: Season 2 – The CW’s hit period romance show Reign: Season 2 comes to DVD just before season three launches on the network. The show is driven by its three young, attractive, and talented leads, plus the hint of supernatural that pops up occasionally gives it a bit of mystery. I’m not sure how well the show will play outside of its target audience of teenage girls, but it seems to be doing well for the network, and I like it well enough for what it is.
- Blunt Force Trauma – I know he’s best known for True Blood, but Ryan Kwanten just keeps making compelling little thrillers that not enough people see. Red Hill, Mystery Road, Northmen, and now Blunt Force Trauma. While not his strongest outing to date, it’s still an intriguing and exciting thriller. In it, a sport that involves competitors shooting each other in the chest while wearing bulletproof vests until one opponent is knocked out of their circle. It’s sort of a post-modern take on The Quick and the Dead, and while it’s got some moments that don’t work, it’s still a pretty cool little film.
- We Are Still Here – Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, and Lisa Marie star in this dark horror film about a grieving couple who retreat to a home in a Town That Has Secrets and find themselves besieged by… well, something or someone. That’s about all I can say plot wise without spoiling things, but this is a creepy and atmospheric horror film that will appeal to fans of good old-fashioned haunted house stories. Even if it’s not entirely that. Exactly. Sort of.
- People, Places, Things – Flight of the Conchords‘ Jemaine Clement stars in this dramedy about a single father struggling to raise his twin girls, which isn’t the kind of role you expect to see Clement in, as he’s best known for oddball, quirky, darkly comedic roles. And that’s what makes the film work, as Clement is surprisingly charming. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s a fun little film with heart and character.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete 1st & 2nd Seasons – 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:The Complete 1st & 2nd Seasons collects the entire first two seasons into one budget-priced box set, which is fantastic. In short: I LOVE THIS SHOW!
- Peanuts: Bon Voyage Charlie Brown and He’s a Bully, Charlie Brown – I absolutely loved Peanuts movies when I was a kid, and I’m so glad that my kids love them nowadays too. Some things are classics for a reason. Peanuts: Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown and He’s a Bully, Charlie Brown are some of my favorite Peanuts movies from when I was a kid, so I was really excited to watch them again for the first time in a long time. And both of them are filed with all the heart and humor we’ve come to expect from the world of Charlie Brown.. This is a kids classic for all ages!
- What We Did On Our Holiday – Rosamund Pike and Doctor Who himself, David Tennant, star in this charming British comedy about, well, a family on vacation. It mixes “Are we there yet?” moments with some poignant scenes dealing with aging relatives, but it’s mostly laughs, and anyone who’s ever ben on a family vacation will really appreciate some of the humor here. I love Rosamund Pike, and she and Tennant together are lots of fun to watch.
- Last Shift – A lone police officer closing down a police station as it’s being shut down, and things start to go bump in the night? That sounds like the premise for a pretty neat horror film, but Last Shift never quite gets where it wants to go. It’s got some creepy moments and the performances aren’t bad for a horror film, but it never rises above the level of just being okay.
- Final Girl – Abigail Breslin takes on a new type of role as the victim of a group of young men who like to hunt young girls but instead turns the tables on them. The film mixes in elements of Hanna and I Spit on Your Grave, but is missing any of the immediacy, punch, or vigor of those films. It’s nicely shot but largely toothless, although I do like Abigail Breslin quite a bit.
- Ardor – Gael Garcia Bernal and Alice Braga star in this slow-burning modern-day western (that’s not really a western.) Bernal stars as a man who tries to get a woman’s daughter back from kidnappers, but the film is far from the action thriller the packaging tries to make you believe that it is. It’s a glacially-paced drama with a few bursts of action that works hard to to add messages about poverty, eco terrorism, big companies, and the danger of today’s world. It’s not a bad film per se, but it’s not what I was hoping for, either.
- Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: Christmas Special – Okay, I never liked Pee-wee Herman, nor did I ever really like his show. However, I’m in the minority on that, and I realize that most people will be very excited to see this new collection. And they should be. This is a real treasure for fans of the show. Available on Blu-ray, this set is a one-off release of the Christmas episode. If you have fond memories of Lurence Fishburne Jr. as a cowboy, a talking chair, and a little man in a too-small suit, then this set will bring a huge smile to your face.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal: 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 Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal: Season 2. You know, for the kids. Riiiight… for the kids. I don’t know much about all these cartoons (which makes me sound old even as I type it), but I know this show has fans that are kids and adults, so they’ll be pleased to see this.
- Little House on the Prairie: Season 7 – Good night, John Boy! Take a trip back to the frontier with Little House on the Prairie: Season 7 – Deluxe Remastered Edition. Even though Lionsgate has been releasing this show on Blu-ray, this week’s release is DVD only. Is that because they haven’t been selling well enough to keep the Blu-ray releases coming, or is it just coming out at a later date? I’m not sure, but for now, this is the only option available.
- Duck Dynasty: Season 8 – I am running out of things to say about a show I just don’t care that much about. Duck Dynasty is basically car wreck television. That’s what I call shows that are like car wrecks: you know they’re horrible, but you still can’t turn away. Duck Dynasty isn’t quite horrible, but it is predictable, typical reality TV fare. It’s basically like the Kardashians, just with a bunch of hillbilly, long-bearded duck call makers instead of semi-beautiful, vapid bimbos. Duck Dynasty is simple reality TV, and I can see how it would become addicting if you watched enough of it. But I think I’ll pass.
- DCI Banks: Season Three – Based on the bestselling Inspector Banks novels by Peter Robinson, DCI Banks: Season 3 is more fine British mystery storytelling. Presenting three feature-length stories of murder, kidnapping, secret lives, and more. DCI Banks will keep you guessing right up until the end.
- Death in Paradise: Season 3 – Another British mystery show out this week — but with a decidedly different tone — is Death in Paradise: Season 3, which sees a stalwart British detective transplanted to an island vacation getaway. As you can imagine, culture clashes ensue, but the mysteries never take back seat. A fun show.
- Greatest Heroes of the Bible: Complete Collection – On the religious side of things, we have this new collection which collects Greatest Heroes of the Bible: Volume One, Greatest Heroes of the Bible: Volume Two, and Greatest Heroes of the Bible: Volume Three. This set features 12 one-hour programs that tell the most famous bible tales: The Ten Commandments, David and Goliath, The Story of Moses, The Tower of Babel, and so on. These aren’t big movie versions, but again, for families looking for some faith-based holiday material, their low price makes them an affordable option.
- Science & Word Play Gift Set – This two-disc set collects episodes of Wallykazam and Blaze and the Monster Machines that obviously focus on science and language. Wallykazam is a cute little show for preschoolers that infuses literacy learning more directly into the episodes than some of Nick’s other shows. Similar in spirit to SuperWhy, the show is a cute little series, following a little guy named Wally and his dragon Norville as they use words to learn about and change their magical kingdom. In case you were worried that your pre-schooler didn’t have enough vehicle-based shows to watch, now we have a new Blaze & The Monster Machines DVD. This is one of Nick Jr.’s latest shows, which follows a young Monster Truck and his friends in the world of Monster Truck racing. Of course, there are learning components as well.
FOR MORE OF THIS WEEK’S RELEASES: LOOK FOR OUT THIS WEEK: PART TWO TOMORROW!