Inside Out – First off, let me say that kids will love this movie. And adults will, too. But for me personally, I came out of it having the same reaction I have to pretty much every Pixar movie that’s come out over the past decade: it was good, but not great. Yes, I enjoyed the movie overall. But was I blown away by it? Did I love it? Could I not wait to watch it again? Sadly not. There are some great moments in it, such as when we get glimpses into how other people’s brains work, and the voice cast are all in top form. Like I said, it’s a good movie, but it just falls short of being the magical hit that everyone else seemed to think it was. At least for me.
Vacation – I’m glad that — even though this is kind of a remake of National Lampoon’s Vacation — this isn’t a remake of National Lampoon’s Vacation, but rather a continuation of the series. By having Ed Helms play Chevy Chase’s son (and having Chase show up for a small role as Clark Griswold), the film feels much less like a cheap cash-in and more like a movie made because the filmmakers love the Vacation movies and wanted to bring that fun to a new generation. Does it work? Way more than I ever expected. In fact, this movie had me laughing out loud. Constantly. Honestly, I’m surprised it wasn’t a bigger hit, because it’s really, really funny. I don’t know if old school Vacation fans will love it, but on its own merits as a summer comedy, this one is fantastic.
Toy Story that Time Forgot – This is the latest short film starring everyone’s favorite Toy Story characters. A hit on broadcast TV last year, it’s now on DVD and Blu-ray for your kids to enjoy over and over (and over) again. While all your favorite characters show up for a couple of lines, the story focuses mostly on Trixie the Triceratops and some new Dinosaur toys. That said — and despite my complaints about Pixar above — this one is a lot of fun. One area Pixar seems to always hit it out of the park is the Toy Story universe, and this special is no exception.
Game of Thrones: Season 1 & 2 (Steelbook) – Look, by now, you know if you’e a Game of Thrones fan or not. Either you’ve been sucked in by it, or you haven’t. For my money, the show is simply amazing. If it were a feature film, it would have been a whole trilogy and taken a decade to get to screen. As it is, we get amazing storylines, memorable characters, unyielding action, surprise plot twists, and much, much more. But, for those people out there who still haven’t journeyed to Westeros (or those who have but are fanatics/completists), HBO has re-released the first two seasons in gorgeous new packaging that includes Steelbook cases and huge, weighty sigil magnets that you can adorn your refrigerator or file cabinet with. I expect to see these on a lot of Christmas lists this year.
Black Sails: Season 2 – Starz’s hit pirate series returns home video, just in time for Season Three to set sail. With Michael Bay producing, the production values on this show are amazing, and the results are pretty darn awesome. Starz was clearly trying to creat a Game-of-Thrones-with-pirates show, and I think they’ve largely succeeded. The cast is terrific, the action sequences are outstanding, and the show is fun to watch and engaging. And the cast is equally easy on the eyes for guys and girls; there are a lot of very pretty people in the cast. If you’re like me and don’t pay for premium TV, now is the chance to have some fun and check out Black Sails.
Stung – I absolutely loved this movie about giant wasps wreaking havoc on a dinner party at an isolated mansion in the south. Sure, Lance Henriksen and Clifton Collins Jr. being along for the ride adds to the fun, but it’s largely unknown actors Jessica Cook and (especially) Matt O’Leary who do the heavy lifting here. This is an old-school creature flick, relying more on practical effects than CGI, but it’s the sense of fun at play here that really won me over. The script is sharp, the characters feel real and not like cliches, and the wasp action is over-the-top and gory (but not so much that it turns your stomach.) In short, this is a perfect little horror film that I enjoyed way more than I expected to.
A LEGO Brickumentary – How has it taken this long for someone to make a documentary about LEGOs? Narrated by Jason Bateman, this terrific documentary isn’t just some dry nuts-and-bolts history of the company, but rather a fun and playful look at LEGO’s impact on the world. We see celebrity LEGO fans share their love for the bricks, we see amazingly huge and innovative LEGO creations, we get some fun little animations. On the flip side, there are also more serious moments, such as a look at the therapeutic benefits of playing with LEGOs. It’s perfectly well-rounded, and in short, it’s everything a LEGO lover could ask for.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas – This hour-long animated special is based on the broadway musical that is, of course, based on the hit movie starring Will Ferrell. At this point, Elf is a holiday tradition in our house, and nothing will change that. But it’s nice to get something new in the world of Buddy and his friends, even if it’s an animated special. Much more musical than the movie, this one is a cute filler for the kids around Christmastime, but it doesn’t compare to the original movie. It’s still fun, though, so it’s worth watching just to shake things up a little. But keep watching Elf every year, because its the best!
- The 10th Kingdom: 15th Anniversary Special Edition – Even though the extended titles of this release sounds like it’s got to do with fractions, I’m really excited to see this release. I watched the The Tenth Kingdom when it originally came out on DVD as one of those, “this could be a fun rental” type of things, and it turned out to be a really terrific miniseries. The cast is terrific, the story is fun, the make-up effects are excellent, and the whole thing played out in a way which was very clever and endearing. Apparently, I’m not the only one who felt that way, because now we get a 15th Anniversary Edition of the miniseries (on Blu-ray, no less!) so that a whole new generation of viewers can discover it.
- Before We Go – Chris Evans and Alice Eve (could their be a better-looking screen couple?) star in Evans’s directorial debut, a romantic dramedy of sorts about a pair of strangers who end up hanging out together in NYC overnight after some events lead to them being stuck in the city. What follows is a sweet little movie that doesn’t try to force itself into any pre-checked boxes. The characters feel real and Evans and Eve are terrific on screen together. In some ways it’s a traditional romance tim, yet in others it differs. It’s a smart directorial debut for Evans as well; by not trying to tackle some $100 million dollar blockbuster, he has time to find his footing, and he succeeds. The film shows definite potential for his future as a filmmaker.
- Bloodsucking Bastards – Now THAT’S how you name a vampire movie! Dollhouse’s Fran Kranz stars in this horror comedy that’s part Office Space, part The Lost Boys. But more Office Space. I love when filmmakers mash-up the horror and comedy genres, even though it generally fails way more often than it works. I don’t know why the genre is so hard to get right, but Bloodsucking Bastards pulls it off. This one is definitely worth checking out.
- Masterpiece: Worricker – The Complete Series – Bill Nighy and Helena Bonham Carter star in the triple feature releases of the Masterpiece: Worricker series. Making up a complete trilogy, this gripping spy saga sees our lead character on the run from his own people. Not an action movie franchise, but full of suspense and tension, this is typical British intrigue done well.
- The Great Fire – I so wanted to love this British PBS miniseries, and by all rights it had all the right ingredients to be everything that I love, but it falls flat somewhere along the line. I love disaster movies, and I love PBS dramas, so a PBS drama about the great fire that decimated London in the 1800s should have been a slam dunk. Unfortunately, it mires itself down in a plot about a conspiracy to kill the king and some interpersonal character story lines that just aren’t that interesting. I’m not saying I just wanted all action and no story, I just wish the story was more interesting.
- Getting On: Season 2 – While billed as a comedy, Getting on is definitely more of a dramedy. After all, it takes place in the Extended Care Unit of a run-down hospital; also known as a place where many patients go to die. With a cast of experienced comedic actors that includes Laurie Metcalf, Alex Borstein, Niecy Nash, and Mel Rodriguez, the show manages to be funny without being overly crass, and also have a heart when it needs to. It’s not something I think I’d seek out, but I enjoyed it enough for what it is.
- Operator – When Ving Rhames, Luke Goss, Michael Pare, and Mischa Barton get together for a movie, you know you’re in for a B-movie greatness. Or more accurately, B-movie mediocrity. To be fair, Operator isn’t terrible, it’s just more of the same. In fact, I’m pretty sure Ving Rhames, Luke Goss, Michael Pare, and Mischa Barton have already made this movie together. It’s hard to tell, though, as they all blend together after a while.
- Some Kind of Hate – This is an interesting take on the horror film. Unfortunately, it’s more interesting than it is successful, but it’s not bad, just not as unique as it could be. The storyline revolves heavily around bullying and suicide — a very timely topic in today’s era — but when a vengeful ghost enters the fray, things become a bit cliched. The mix of horror and teen angst never quite gels as well as I wanted it to, but I at least give the movie credit for trying to do something interesting.
- Uncanny – Mark Webber (a young character actor I enjoy very much) and Lucy Griffiths star in this slow-burning sci-fi thriller that feels like it was heavily inspired by Ex Machina, even though it was probably made before Ex Machina was even on the radar. I loved the last 20 minutes of this movie. It’s a shame the preceding 70 minutes is so painfully slow. There’s a really good intellectual sci-fi thriller buried in here, but it’s just SO slow burning that it doesn’t live up to its full potential, despite some terrific performances front eh cast.
- Tiger House – I generally like home invasion movies; it’s just a genre that I find usually delivers solid movies, even if the plots are all the same. Tiger House is no different really, as it follows the same plot line so many of these movies do, but it’s pretty well-acted, the action ramps up big-time in the final third, and it’s got Dougray Scott in it, which is always a plus. This one won’t win any wards, but I can think of worse ways to kill 90 minutes.
- In Their Own Words: Jim Henson, Queen Elizabeth, Muhammad Ali – PBS releases a trio of documentaries about some of the biggest names of the 20th Century, although they should have called the series In Somebody Else’s Words, because that’s largely what it is. Still, each of these 60-minute biographies features interviews with the people who knew the subjects best: friends, families, colleagues, etc. If you have any interest in Henson, Ali, or the Queen, these are excellent little digest-sized docs that are packed with information, footage, and facts.
- Paper Angels – I’m not sure if Paper Angels actually aired on the Lifetime Channel or not, but it may as well have. This romantic Christmas movie stars Josie Bisset and Matthew Settle, and it’s as by-the-numbers as they come. That said, though, it’s highly watchable. Sure, you can predict almost every single plot turn and line of dialogue, but if you like these kinds of movies, this one is rather satisfying.
- The Nutcracker Sweet – This movie answers the question, “Hey, I wonder what Alicia Silverstone is up to these days?” Providing the lead voice for lower-budget animated fare alongside actors like Drake Bell and Edward Asner, clearly. I have to say, while this doesn’t come close to the likes of what Disney or Dreamworks are putting out these days, for a direct-to-video adaptation of a classic tale, I’ve definitely seen worse. Kids — the target audience — should enjoy this one.
- The Golden Cane Warrior – Indonesia came into the spotlight recently with the hit action movie The Raid (which was actually directed by a British director), so this Indonesian action film has garnered some attention. It’s not The Raid, but as far as period martial arts films go (which isn’t one of my favorite genres; I prefer my Asian action films set in the present), it’s definitely a solid entry.
- Paulo Coelho’s Best Story – I’ll be honest, I’d never even heard of bestselling author Paulo Coelho, writer of The Alchemist and The Pilgrimage, before this movie hit my desk. I had no idea what it was or who he is. It turns out that this film is a biopic of sorts that traces the author’s early, darker years, and reveals where the inspiration for his works came from. I can’t say I was totally caught up in it, as it’s awfully bleak and somewhat depressing at times, but fans of the author might enjoy it.
- A Chef’s Life Holiday Special – There’s a lot packed into this 60-minute special. As with the best food shows, this isn’t really a cooking show per se, but rather a show that explores food, cooking, the south, and the life of Chef Vivian Howard, who makes a compelling central figure for a TV show. This episode, of course, focuses on the holidays, as we learn about holiday traditions and the like. Fans of fare like America’s Test Kitchen and The Mind of a Chef will enjoy this show.
- An En Vogue Christmas – “Free your mind… and miracles will follow!” So goes the tagline for An En Vogue Christmas. Remember En Vogue? They had a couple of hit songs about a million years ago. I guess they’re still a thing because suddenly they’re on DVD. There’s kind of a weird meta angle to this movie, as the girls from the group play themselves, who come back together after years apart for a charity concert. Is it based in reality? Are they really broken up? Did they come together for a charity concert? I don’t know, but as far as cheesy Christmas movies go, this one will satisfy fans of the group. Or cheesy Christmas movies.
- Four Warriors – I have nothing against low-budget filmmaking and no-name actors. Sometimes you find some great movies that fall into those categories. But rarely are they films that fall under the fantasy-adventure umbrella. They’re just too hard to pull off on a low-budget and with inexperienced actors. Four Warriors tries its best, but it’s really only for the die-hard-ext fantasy fans.
- More Money More Family – I really think the official description tells you everything you need to know about this movie. “Rudy and Shawn decide that it’s time to get the family back together – no matter what! They hatch a plan to tell the entire family that they won the lottery and invite everyone to a party to pass out the money, hoping their mothers will come. Will the scheme work, or will this crazy plan backfire and split the family apart forever?” What do you think will happen? Yeah, exactly. Oh, bonus, the movie also stars rapper Silkk “The Shocker” Miller, so that’s something. I guess.
- First Silent Night – You wouldn’t think that the origins of a single Christmas song would be enough to fill an hour-long documentary, but you’d be wrong. This interesting program explores the origins of the song Silent Night, which dates back to the Napoleonic Wars. There’s a lot more history than you ight think, so this one will make for good holiday viewing as well as a treat for history buffs.
- Do I Sound Gay? – This is the kind of movie title that can sound like it’s just trying to get attention, but it’s actually a very apt moniker for this documentary. When a journalist’s boyfriend dumps him, he goes on a quest to find himself, confronting the question of “Do I sound gay?” Along the way, he talks with linguists, acting teachers, friends & family, and some big name celebrities (including George Takei, Tim Gunn, and Margaret Cho). It’s a surprisingly interesting and well done movie.
- Seymour: An Introduction – Its not every day you get profiled in a movie by Ethan Hawke, but that’s what happens in Seymour: An Introduction. Seymour Bernstein was a virtuoso pianist who gave up an extremely successful concert career to teach music; a noble profession to be sure, but what drives a man to do that? This portrait of the musician-turned-inspirration aims to answer that, and it’s part biopic (but not really) and part philosophical musing, all with Hawke along the way to share Bernstein’s life with us. Interesting stuff.