Pixels – There’s a lot to like about Pixels but there’s a lot to be disappointed by, too. When aliens come to earth in the form of 1980s arcade game classics, it’s up to a rag-tag team of video game champions to save the world. It’s a fun concept, and the team of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage, Michele Monaghan, and Josh Gad is a winning one. But the script is completely toothless, the laughs are few and far between, and Peter Dinklage does this weird accent/affect thing that I can’t figure out for the life of me. It’s like the filmmakers spent all the money on the cast and the special effects (which are terrific), but threw together the cheapest, easiest script they could. Josh Gad brings about 90% of the film’s laughs, but why aren’t the rest of these comedy stars pulling their weight? It’s still an overall enjoyable watch, but it could have been a real classic. Shame, that.
Southpaw – Jake Gyllenhaal turns in a blistering performance in this box-office underperformer that should have found a bigger audience. Unfortunately, nowadays it seems like if a film doesn’t have spaceships or explosions, it’s a hard sell at the box office, but this powerful drama is the kind of film that would have been a blockbuster in the ’70s. Gyllenhaal plays a from-the-streets boxer whose wife is killed when he gets into a brawl with a hotshot troublemaker. What follows is a tale of rebuilding and redemption, and of a father and daughter trying to find themselves again when their world falls apart. Gyllenhaal deserves an Academy Award nomination for his performance, and the film is one that’s worth seeking out.
Army Of Darkness: Collector’s Edition – While there have been umpteen million releases of Army of Darkness on DVD and Blu-ray, and most die-hard fans probably own more than one version of the film, this might be the definitive release. Eschewing the crazy packaging gimmicks which have adorned previous versions for content, this Blu-ray from Shout Factory’s always-excellent Scream Factory imprint contains no less than THREE versions of the film. You get the original Theatrical Version (still my favorite), the Director’s Cut (about 15 minutes longer), and the International Version (which is basically the TV version, but includes footage not in the other two.) It’s fun to compare the films, and it’s nice for us completists to have all three all in one package. Add to that a making-of that’s longer than the film itself and a bunch of other extra features, and this is a set you can spend days devouring. A+ all the way around.
Max – A surprise hit at the box office, Max tells the story of a military service dog who is taken in by his trainer’s rebellious teenage brother after his trainer is killed in combat. More than just a coming-of-age tale, however, the story also adds in a crime-stopping adventure for a film that is the very definition of family entertainment. This isn’t some Air Buddies type of kiddie flick, but rather a full-on feature film that just happens to be appropriate for the whole family. It’s much more The Black Stallion-type film than it is Air Bud. There are some good action scenes and the film is well-acted and solidly written. This one might surprise you.
Mulholland Dr. – I’ve never been a fan of David Lynch’s works, even his more seminal films like Blue Velvet. I guess I’m just not the type of person who really enjoys vague, surreal, open-ended filmmaking. Mulholland Drive is probably one of Lynch’s more coherent films, which is kind of terrifying to the left half of my brain. The best thing the film accomplishes is to bring Naomi Watts to the forefront and allow her to become a star. (Although whatever happened to poor Laura Elena Harring, her co-star?) Can I tell you what this film is about? No. Do I love this film? No. Do I like it better than most Lynch films? Yes. So I guess that’s something. This new Criterion Collection edition is completely restored and remastered and comes with a bevy of extra features, which can be a rarity for Lynch releases.
The Fifth Element: Cinema Series & Leon the Professional: Cinema Series – Sony continues their new Cinema Series of Blu-ray releases with two films that deserve it from both a filmmaking and a marketing point of view. The Fifth Element and Leon the Professional (known in the US as simply The Professional) represent Luc Besson’s most successful (Fifth Element) and most well-loved and critically acclaimed (The Professional) films. Each film has a new surround sound experience built into it and includes the best collection of extra features from the various previous home video releases. More than that, both films are terrific, The Fifth Element in an over-the-top sci-fi way and The Professional in a “Hey, Luc Besson can actually make good films!” way. These are both top-notch efforts from Sony.
The Human Centipede: The Complete Sequence – I’ve long avoided watching these films because I find the concept just so completely disturbing and disgusting. I watch a lot of horror films and very little bothers me, but the depravity of the Human Centipede films was always beyond my comfort zone. So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I sat down with this complete franchise box set, which strings all three films together. What I can say is that the films are all about that shock value. While they’re not horrible films, they’re not great, either. These aren’t films that would have been horror hits if it weren’t for the explicitly shocking nature of the concept itself. You’re not getting something on the level of Halloween or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, here. Still, for fans, this set is a nice way to own the entire collection.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail 40th Anniversary Edition – Another year, another version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail on home video. I think this one trumps even the aforementioned Army of Darkness for the sheer number of home video releases. Honestly, I’ve lost count at this point. This one is available in a limited edition Catapult Version which includes full-on castle packaging, but the main attraction for fans here is the discovery of new reels of animation filmed by Terry Gilliam that have never been seen before.
- Barbie & Her Sisters in The Great Puppy Adventure – Barbie, puppies, and treasure, all in one movies? What more could your nine-year-old girl want? Universal continues their string of Barbie CGI animated movies (releasing five to six a year) with this latest one, which is one of the better ones I’ve seen (and I’ve seen more than I care to admit.) It’s great for kids, and the story is interesting enough to at least keep adults from falling asleep.
- Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer – This is a magical documentary that captures the real-life feel of the streets in the era of the birth of hip-hop. Jamell Shabazz is a photographer who captured the nascent movement in its infancy, and this film features not only a host of photos from his archives, but also interviews with the photographer himself and some famous rappers, most notably Fab Five Freddy and KRS One. If you love movies like Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo, this film will present the real life flip side of that world, and it’s terrific.
- Marry Me for Christmas – If Lifetime were to remake The Proposal with an urban audience in mind, the result would be Marry Me for Christmas. I’m so far removed from the target audience for this film that I don’t have a lot to say about it, but if you like Christmas movies that are predictable rom-com-light fare, this will fit the bill.
- The Horror Network – A last minute Halloween-timed release, this movie is better than its terrible cover artwork. It’s an anthology with five separate short horror films, and while none of them are brilliant, they mostly all overcome their low-budget origins to give us a few nicely creepy entries. I won’t be surprised to see some of these filmmakers make some waves in the horror genre in the future.
- Flowers – When a movie comes with a soundtrack CD as part of the package, there’s a good chance it’s the kind of movie where the music is more important than the film’s story. That might just be the case here with Flowers, a movie that represents an artistic version of the journey through the afterlife: purgatory, hell, and so on. It’s definitely geared more for the art house crowd than the mainstream crowd, but I’m sure there’s an audience out there for it.