San Andreas – I love disaster movies, so I was pretty much a lock for enjoying this movie, but it’s a lot of fun regardless. Dwayne Johnson is the perfect choice for the lead in this film, which is light on subtlety or intelligence but big on spectacle and action set-pieces. The storyline is non-existent: it’s about a massive series of earthquakes that decimates California, which results in Johnson (luckily a rescue helicopter pilot) needing to save his family. But the special effects are second-to-none, and the sequences of destruction are jaw-dropping. Plus, the film has Carla Gugino in it, who’s one of my favorite actresses, and she makes everything she’s in better. Don’t go into this film looking for anything more than it is and you’ll have a great time with it.
Tomorrowland – This one probably ranks as my most disappointing film of the year. Not because it’s bad, because it’s not, but because it’s just so very mediocre and I really, really wanted to love it. This is the kind of movie I tend to enjoy: Disney-fied family-friendly big budget fun. I was hoping for another Race to Witch Mountain, which is a film I absolutely adore (and also stars Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugion, like San Andreas above), but the film just never gets going. In fact, it should have been called Searching for Tomorrowland, because the majority of the movie is spent just trying to get there. The special effects are great, but the film lacks any real humor or pathos, and I could just never get into it the way I wanted to. Too bad.
Dexter: The Complete Series – I absolutely love this show. Love, love, love love. I love it. Sorry if I’m not being clear enough there, but Dexter works on so many different levels, you just can’t believe it. It’s intense and funny and thrilling and suspenseful and you cannot stop watching it the minute you start. You might sit down with the intentions of watching a single episode, but I dare you to sit down to watch just one episode and not end up watching an entire disc (or season). And how perfect, then, to have Dexter: The Complete Series, which collects all eight seasons on DVD? Granted, it’s been released before as a deluxe-packaging (read: more expensive) collector’s set, but this version pares it down and makes it more affordable. I watch — and love — a lot of different shows, but if I had to pick one to take with me to a desert island, Dexter might just be the one.
Ascension – This fantastic SyFy miniseries follows an ark-type spaceship that launched from earth in the 1960s on its way to a new world for humanity. Fifty years into the mission, the spaceship’s denizens suffer their first murder, which causes major turmoil among the residents. I really enjoyed this show, which delivered interesting characters, a solid mystery, and some real twists and turns (and shocks) that I won’t reveal here. The only downside is that the ending is a little too open-ended, as the miniseries was meant to be a back-door pilot to a series that never materialized, unfortunately. But it’s still definitely worth watching.
The 100: The Complete Second Season – The 100 is one of my favorite newer genre shows of the past few seasons. While not a huge hit for the CW, it earned enough buzz to bring it back for a third season. It’s a great mash-up of The Lord of the Flies, Battlestar Galactica, and After Earth, set in the distant future where Earth is potentially uninhabitable. One hundred under-18 “criminal” kids are sent to the Earth’s surface to see if it’s a viable place to sustain what remains of humanity. The show has a few moments of suspect dialogue and acting, but overall it’s quite solid. And it takes some chances. There are some shocking moments that rival what a lot of more “mature” sci-fi shows are doing these days. I’m really glad The 100 is coming back for a third season. Check out this second season collection; it’s really fun stuff.
Aladdin: Diamond Edition – Aladdin finally makes its Blu-ray debut as one of Disney’s well-loved Diamond Edition series, packed with extra features and featuring restored and remastered sound and picture. I don’t know what I can really say about Aladdin that you don’t already know. It’s one of Disney’s most successful and popular movies, and for good reason: its completely magical. The combination of ground-breaking animation, a great story, terrific songs, and of course, Robin Williams as The Genie make this one of the all time greats. I couldn’t be happier to have this one in my collection.
W.C. Fields Comedy Essentials Collection – This five disc set collects 18 comedy classics featuring the legendary W.C. Fields along with a new bonus documentary. Fields may not be as well-known today as he once was, but anybody who loves classic comedies will enjoy this set. The movies included are: Million Dollar Legs, Alice in Wonderland (1933), If I Had a Million, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, Mississippi, International House, It’s a Gift, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, My Little Chickadee, The Bank Dick, Man on the Flying Trapeze, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, You’re Telling Me, The Old Fashioned Way, and Poppy. Many of these have been available before, but never in one comprehensive collection like this.
The Civil War 25th Anniversary Edition – I can’t believe it’s been 25 years since Ken Burns’ game-changing documentary came out, but this new Anniversary Edition is the perfect time to jump into the world of documentaries like you never have before. What makes this set so good? Well, it’s Ken Burns. It’s a documentary. What else do you need to know? It’s a 6-disc, 11-hour documentary of the highest order, with Burns in fine form and bringing the Civil War to life in your living room, with a few new extra features along for the ride. Documentary viewing doesn’t get much better than this, and having the series on Blu-ray makes it even sweeter.
The Saint: Seasons One & Two – A pre-Bond Roger Moore stars in this excellent adventures series about debonair modern-day Robin Hood Simon Templar. Over the course of 118 episodes and seven seasons, Roger Moore’s Templar would help anyone he saw fit, in any way he saw fit, and wasn’t above helping himself to some treasures along the way. The show was a terrific precursor to Moore’s role as Bond, as he’s all charm, dashing, and derring-do in this show. This set features the first two seasons in black & white. I love this show, and while it has been on DVD before, this is a good box set for new collectors. It’s well worth owning.
Also out this week on Blu-ray & DVD:
- Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas – Grinchmas Edition – I was never a big fan of this movie when it came out back in 2003, but I didn’t have kids then. Watching it now (with the new Grinchmas Edition which — as far as I can tell — is simply a repackaging), I still don’t love it, but I can appreciate it more as family-friendly entertainment. It’ll never replace Elf as our go-to Holiday movie, but it’s worth having for the kids.
- Billy Elliot: The Musical Live – This big-stage play based on the hit 2000 movie about a young boy wanting to become a ballet dancer during the 1980s coal mine strike in Northeast England is a musical adaptation that translates fairly well to DVD/Blu-ray. While it doesn’t quite capture the feel of being in the theater, it doesn’t feel like you’re completely removed from it either. I prefer the non-musical version of the story, but this is a good watch regardless.
- The Gallows – The Gallows is a surprisingly good horror film. I say surprisingly because it’s a found footage movie, which is usually the sign of death for me. But this one works fairly well by creating realistic characters (the high school cliches are here, but they feel authentic, like the overly achieving drama club girl) and having some genuine creepy chills in it. Plus, as a bonus, you get the entire feature-length original movie which was made by the filmmakers and caught the attention of Hollywood. So it’s like getting two movies for the price of one.
- Dope – Dope is a different kind of movie that doesn’t fit neatly into one genre. Ultimately a dramedy, the film follows a trio of young friends — led by one straight-A, self-proclaimed nerd — as they wind up in a series of misadventures involving a drug dealer’s birthday party and many other misfortunes. Its a better film than I expected it to be, and the trio of lead actors are all quite good for being kids.
- My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Friendship Games and My Little Pony: Equestria Girls (Three Movie Gift Set) – I don’t really care about My Little Pony at all (no Bronies here!), but my daughter loves these movies. First off is the newest movie in the series, Friendship Games, which takes on a sort of Olympics-styled competition vibe. The EG collection of three DVDs features all three full-on movies, in which Twilight Sparkle gets transported to a new world, which is populated by the Equestria Girls, who are basically human teen versions of the My Little Ponies. They’re big, bright, fast-paced, and have lots of songs in it. As a parent, I found these to be extremely tolerable. And I don’t mean that as a dig, but I’m not a Brony; I watched these solely so my daughter could enjoy them, and she did, very much.
- Indian Summers – This show is being billed as Downton Abbey in India, and for good reason: it IS Downton Abbey in India. I mean, sure, there are some differences, but basically it’s the upstairs/downstairs dichotomy set in India in the 1920s, with a cast of British characters playing transplanted Englanders when the country was still under British rule. It’s not as charming as Downton, but it does have its moments. It’s at east good enough to hold you over until Downton returns.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Christmas – This DVD represents a story from the 2002 – 2003 animated Turtles series. This one is sort of an oddity for me. It’s not the worst Turtles adaptation I’ve seen, but it’s certainly not the best. I was glad to see this release because I don’t have much from that series and I’m a die-hard Ninja Turtles fan, but I wish it was a complete series collection instead of just another single disc.
- The Return Of Count Yorga – I don’t know that the original Count Yorga really needed a sequel, but this film is actually a bit better than that one, so that’s a bonus. Filled with vampire cliches and scantily clad vampire babes, as long as you can enjoy the cheesy 70s trappings. The Blu-ray sees some improvement to picture and sound over standard DVD, but keep in mind the age of the film.
- The Little Death – While the cast of this film is made up primarily of unknowns, that doesn’t stop it from being a charming little comedy. Following a series of couples and focusing primarily on their sex lives, the plot isn’t to complex, but the characters are fun, the laughs are there, and the cast are top-notch. Worth a look.
- Gloria – I assumed from the cover art that this was a biopic of Gloria Estefan, but it turns out it’s not. It’s a biopic about pop star Gloria Trevi, who’s been much more Madonna/Lady Gaga-esque in her career. I didn’t even know who Trevi was before watching this film, and while I can’t say it made me a fan, it was at least an interesting watch.
- James Bond Gadgets – Just in time for the new James bond film, we have this re-released DVD. Collecting two episodes of Modern Marvels, this DVD focuses solely on the gadgets of one James Bond, also known as 007. With a look at how they’ve evolved over the course of the series as well as some of their real-life counterparts, this is a fun watch for anyone who’s ever found the gadgets that Q cooks up to be the best part of the Bond films.
- The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour: Christmas Specials – This 90-minute collection of episodes from Glen Campbell’s show all feature a Christmas theme, obviously. While some of the guest stars are long forgotten (at least by me), you do see some familiar faces such as Jerry Reed and Anne Murray. This one’s a ice throwback for fans of Cambell.
- When Calls The Heart: Follow Your Heart and When Calls The Heart: Year Two (The Television Movie Collection) – How many books has Janette Oke written? Because I can count at least a dozen TV movies based on them. In fact, I’m not sure why this series isn’t just a weekly show instead of a series of TV movies, as they come out so often. When Calls The Heart: Follow Your Heart is the latest in the series, and it stars Erin Krakow, Lori Loughlin and Jack Wagner. I’ve said this before, but you don’t see a lot of romances where one of the main characters is a Canadian Mounty. Well, in this case you do. It’s pretty typical Hallmark fare, but I imagine the target audience will enjoy it. Also available this week is When Calls The Heart: Year Two (The Television Movie Collection), which includes seven TV movies (or “episodes.”)
- Red Vs Blue: Season 13 – This is the latest collection of the hit internet animated series that’s created using in-game footage from the Halo series of video games, and it’s all re-dubbed to some very comedic effects. It follows a group of hapless soldiers stationed on an alien planet, and for the most part they’re a bunch of dimbulbs which, of course, leads to hilarity. Not every joke hits, but man, I do find this show pretty funny sometimes. The creators also do a good job of keeping the humor universal; I’ve never played a minute of Halo, and I still enjoyed the heck out of this show.
- Magic School Bus: Season 4 – After last year’s Magic School Bus: The Complete Series collected the entire series into one massive box set, Scholastic has now started releasing single seasons of the show, which is great for parents on a budget who can’t swing a big box set. This latest release features the entire fourth season. This is a fun little show that teaches kids about all kinds of things, and my kids certainly enjoy it.
- Chuggington: The Big Freeze – This show is sort of a hipper, more fun version of Thomas & Friends. A cast of computer-generated train characters get into mischief and have various adventures, and along the way they usually learn a little something, too. My kids liked this show when they were younger, although was never one of their favorites. However, there’s a really good voice cast in this show. It’s some of the better voice work I’ve heard on a kids’ show. This DVD collection has a winter/holiday theme, for obvious reasons. Chuggington is a fun little show, and this new collection will be sure to excite your children.