The Man From U.N.C.L.E. – I can only blame the failure of this film on poor marketing, because it should have been a hit. Maybe not a $300 million blockbuster, but it definitely could have followed in the footsteps of The Kingsman and taken in a solid $125 million. The fact that most people didn’t even know it came out is a real shame. Very loosely based on the classic Robert Vaughan/David McCallum TV show from the ’60s, the film is a classic spies-and-cocktails caper, with Man of Steel‘s Hanry Cavill as the dashing and debonair Napoleon Solo and The Lone Ranger‘s Armie Hammer as the rough and ruthless Russian spy Ilya Kuryakin. I loved the TV show as a kid, and while this bears little resemblance to that, it should please fans of the show as well as people who have never even heard of it. It’s a lot of fun and it’s worth seeking out.
The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies Extended Edition – As with the previous Exteneded Edition releases, this new version of THTBOTFA boasts about 20 minutes of new and unseen footage added back into the film. Is it a necessary addition? No. Does it hurt the film? No. Frankly, The Hobbit films have gotten a bit of a short shrift from fans of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but I’ve really enjoyed all of the films so far. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is easily my favorite of the three. Fans who complained that the first film was an hour of singing will be rewarded this go around, as this one is a non-stop action roller coaster, especially the last 45 minutes or so, when the titular battle occurs. What makes it so great is that — despite there being hundreds if not thousands of creatures battling it out — Peter Jackson manages to make each fight important and have consequences for our characters, in addition to being viscerally exciting. I was really impressed with the battle scenes; a lot of today’s directors could learn how to stage a fight sequence you can actually follow from this movie. Thumbs up all around.
We Are Your Friends – This is one of those films that is way, way better than it should be. Imagine Boiler Room with DJs, and you sort of get the idea. And not to say that it’s as good as Boiler Room, but Zac Efron’s latest drama is surprisingly enjoyable. It’s a basic rama about four young friends in the California scene trying to make something of their lives and ending up in over their heads. Efron is terrific as always (he’s very talented in my book) and Wes Bentley is terrific as Efron’s mentor-of-sorts. This is one of those movies where good performances don’t necessary equal flashy, award-winning turns, but everyone her dis really good at inhabiting the role they’re playing, especially Bentley. Also, I have to say that i was extremely impressed with the cinematography of the film. For what could have been a boring teen drama, the movie has a very unique and stylized visual identity that I really liked. Which makes the fact that it wasn’t even released on Blu-ray all the more disappointing.
McHale’s Navy: The Complete Series – Packaged in a hefty military-style locker and boasting 60 hours of content (with 138 complete episodes), McHale’s Navy: The Complete Series is a comedy juggernaut, and it’s one that I expect to see under a lot of Christmas trees this year. Running from 1962-1966, this show featured Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway as part of a crew of misfit navy seamen who were constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the commander who wanted them out of the navy. It’s classic sitcom stuff, and it fits alongside other brilliant sitcoms of the era like I Dream of Jeannie, Gilligan’s Island, and Hogan’s Heroes.
Troll / Troll 2 – This great new double feature from Shout Factory’s always-excellent Scream Factory Imprint is the stuff that B-movie legends are made of. What’s interesting is the journey of these films. Troll was a typical ’80s creature flick, albeit one that starred a young Julia Louis Dreyfus. Then Troll 2 came out, which is sort of its own entity, and has become widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made In fact, it even spawned a documentary called Best Worst Movie, which explores how this movie was basically made by a guy who wasn’t a filmmaker at all and how it was one of the biggest failures ever. Honestly, I wish Scream Factory could have found a way to include Best Worst Movie as an extra feature, because watching it as a Double Feature with Troll 2 is the only thing that makes Troll 2 worth watching.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- Living In Oblivion – Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, and Peter Dinklage star in this send-up of the independent film world now celebrating its 20th anniversary. I hated director Tom DeCillo’s previous film (Johnny Suede, starring a pre-fame Brad Pitt), but this one is a much more straightforward narrative, and it’s actually pretty funny. Of course, much of the credit goes to the cast: how could a movie with Buscemi, Keener, and Dinkage not be funny?
- Sgt. Bilko / The Phil Silvers Show: The Final Season – One of television’s earliest comedy blockbusters, Sgt. Bilko was a spotlight for Phil Silvers’ signature character, and he clearly steals the show. Sgt. Bilko is 1950s humor at its best; rather than feeling dated, it feels timeless. Unlike so many other comedies from the past that age poorly, Sgt. Bilko comes across as a classic, and it’s funny stuff. The joke-telling is from another era, but it works because the writing is strong and the actors understand how to be funny.
- White Of The Eye – This 1987 serial killer flick stars David Keith and Catherine Moriarty, and it hi olds up surprisingly well. Despite some ’80s trappings, what starts off as a seemingly typical slasher-styled film takes some twists and turns in the third act that set it apart. Moriarty especially is terrific in the lead role, and the film doesn’t shy away from the violence that gives it its visceral impact. It might not be for everyone, but as far as the horror/thriller genre goes, its definitely worth a watch.
- Mary Tyler Moore: A Celebration – How do you fit a person’s entire life into a one-hour special? You don’t, which is why PBS’s new documentary Mary Tyler Moore: A Celebration focuses largely on the actor’s career and her hit shows. Here we get clips from dozens of episodes of Moore’s best works, including — of course — The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. It’s a terrific look at one of America’s favorite leading ladies and I recommend it highly.
- Jimmy’s Hall – What sounds on the surface like an Irish remake of Footloose — lone dreamer builds dance hall and invokes the ire of local political leaders — is anything but. This is a Ken Loach film, and Loach never met a subject he couldn’t make a dour, serious drama about. This one deals with Irish politics and social commentary, all based on a true story. It’s a solidly good film, but I’ve never been an overly huge fan of Loach’s filmmaking. For people who like his movies, though, it falls nicely in line with the rest of his oeuvre.
- The Rebel: Season 2 – Previous to the DVD releases, I was not familiar with this show or star Nick Adams, but The Rebel is a good slice of classic Hollywood western fun. Ovet the course of the second season, we continue our adventures with The Rebel, an ex-Civil War soldier who’s out to right wrongs with double fisted fury. The show features notable guest stars such as Jack Elam, Agnes Moorehead, Dan Blocker, Soupy Sales, Robert Vaughn, and Leonard Nimoy, and it’s really right up the alley of anyone who loves westerns.
- Art of the Heist – If you love good heist films, you owe it to yourself to watch this excellent series. I can think of dozens of TV shows or documentaries that have dealt with heists before, but I can’t think of any that give you the inside perspectives of the thieves themselves. Yep, Art of the Heist combines recreations of famous art heists with interviews from the actual thieves themselves to give you a look at how these thefts were pulled off like you’ve never seen before. It’s fascinating and engaging stuff.
- Empire – Also from Acorn Media, Empire is a little less fascinating and engaging than Art of the Heist. Unless you’re from the United Kingodm, that is. Then you may find this five-part historical documentary series charting the rise and reign of the British Empire more interesting. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not an area of history I’m terribly interested in.
- Swim Little Fish Swim – An indie romantic dramedy meet-cute between a married musician who records songs using his three-year-old’s toy instruments and an avant grade (and beautiful) young artist, this is the kind of movie that people will either love or hate. I found it charming and cute, but I can see how its incessant quirkiness and indie style would drive some people right up the wall. I’ll give you this advice: if you like the trailer, you’ll probably enjoy the film. If you watch the trailer and the indie spirit doesn’t seem like your thing, you probably won’t like it.
- Undiscovered Haiti With Jose Andres – I wasn’t familiar with host Jose Andres, but apparently he’s a “chef, author, television host and philanthropist.” What he also is is passionate about Haiti, which is evident in this terrific travelogue. The show splits its time between the more famous landmarks and tourist attractions (like a 150-year-old rum factory) and the people themselves, exploring the culture and traditions. A terrific little TV special.
- Jeff Dunham: Unhinged in Hollywood – I guess if Jeff Dunham and his puppets are your thing, this is a lot of fun. Me, I’m not really a fan. There’s no doubt the guy is talented, but I just don’t really get into puppets. But if you like his shtick, then you’ll be happy to see that he’s brought his usual cast of cohorts along with him, including Walter, Peanut, Bubba J, Little Jeff and Achmed the Dead Terrorist. Yep. Achmed the Dead Terrorist.
- A Horse Tale – Charisma Carpenter and Patrick Muldoon star in this family film about a girl and her horse. It also doubles as a Christmas movie, so you get to check a lot of boxes off with this one. Christmas lessons? Check. A girl and her horse? Check. Family relocation drama? Check. Working together as a family to overcome hardship? Check. “Check” it out if you’re looking for a solid family drama. (See what I did there?)
- Gene Autry Collection 12 – Western fans will be happy to see the Gene Autry Movie Collection 12, yet another release from the legend’s vault. This set features four fully restored films from Autry’s personal archives, including Sagebrush Troubadour (1935), Ride, Ranger, Ride (1936), Yodelin’ Kid from Pine Ridge (1937), and Goldmine in the Sky (1938). Whereas previous sets before this have focused on the ’40s and ’50s, this one stays squarely in the mid-1930s, with each film in black and white. With as many films as Autry starred in, this collection can go for a long time, but I’m pleased to see that Timeless Media is committed to keeping these sets coming at a quick clip.