No Escape – I must have seen the commercial for No Escape on TV about a thousand times, and not once in all that did I ever get even an inkling that Pierce Brosnan stars in it alongside Owen Wilson and Lake Bell. But he does. And the movie is terrific. The story of a family trapped in an unnamed Asian country that undergoes a revolt, No Escape is a white-knuckle blast of pure intensity from start to finish. I generally love these types of movies anyway, but this one is really well done. Written and Directed by The Dowdle Brothers, who have been responsible for a trio of better-then-they-should-have-been horror films (Devil, As Above So Below, Quarantine), this is the first film of theirs to break out of that genre, although there are may horrifying moments indeed. This one is definitely worth tracking down.
Inside Amy Schumer: Season 3 – As somebody who actually knew who Amy Schumer was before this show came out, I’d love to be able to say that I’ve been a fan of hers since the beginning. But I’d be lying. It’s not that I don’t like Amy Schumer; I do. It’s just that the stand-up I saw from her before she became a TV/movie star was always just so-so. I didn’t dislike it, didn’t love it. It wasn’t great enough for me to seek out any more of her material. So when Inside Amy Schumer hit Comedy Central, I wasn’t terribly interested in it. Fast forward three seasons and the buzz on the show is deafening. The show is pretty much a typical sketch comedy, except it mixes in Amy doing stand-up, man-on-the-street interviews (which shows off how quick her wit can be), and sit down interviews with people like strippers and unusually well-endowed men. It’s this mix that makes the show work. That said, the sketches are also pretty funny. There are a few misses here or there, but by and large, I find most of them pretty entertaining. I still think her stand-up is just okay, but I love her interviews. The end result is a fun half-hour show that’s extremely focused on sex; jokes about sex, sketches about sex, interviews about sex. It’s funny stuff, and there’s no shortage of R-rated material.
Shaun the Sheep Movie – I’ve loved Shaun the Sheep since he first appeared in the classic third Wallace & Gromit Short film. My kids have enjoyed his TV series, and they also really enjoyed this charing and funny movie. With no dialogue at all, the film relies heavily on visual gags and the sort of mumbled emotive language that’s populated the TV show. It’s a simple enough plot, but there are some really funny moments throughout, and it manages rot be great for the little ones while remaining equally charming for adults. Well done.
Ricki and the Flash – Written by Diablo Cody, directed by Jonathan Demme, and starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, how did Ricki and the Flash get completely ignored at the box office? I think it’s because the marketing for it just wasn’t that good, and I think people weren’t overwhelmed by the idea of Meryl Streep as a rock musician, no matter how talented we all know she is. But the film is actually pretty good; it’s not a career highlight for Streep, but there’s too much talent at play here for the end result to be bad. I won’t say this movie is for everyone, but if you’re in Streep’s general target demographic, you’ll probably enjoy it.
Don’t Look Back – The seminal music documentary, Don’t Look Back is D.A Pennebaker’s early career exploration of Bob Dylan’s music and soul. Filmed in 1965 on the cusp of Dylan’s last acoustic tour, the film mixes candid Dylan footage with some truly amazing performances. I’m not even a Dylan fan, and I found this film truly engrossing. Since this is a Criterion Collection release, the film has been restored and remastered in high definition, and it also comes with a huge amount of extra features, including an additional documentary and three short films by Pennebaker. Needless to say, if you are a Dylan fan, this is a must-have.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- Ghost Story – Fred Astaire in a horror movie? With Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and John Houseman? Yep, and that movie is 1981’s Ghost Story, a surprisingly good film about four older gentlemen who form a club of sorts telling ghost stories. And, of course, supernatural stirrings start to occur. While the film is now 35 years old and it has aged somewhat, there’s no denying that the terrific cast along with some creepy atmospherics make for a fun horror romp. It’s not what passes for horror nowadays, and I say that unabashedly as a good thing.
- Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow – Based on concepts by the late Jim Henson, this new Thanksgiving-themed family movie is a nice treat. There are very few Thanksgiving-related movies out there, so this is a welcome addition, and the Henson brand quality is in full force here. It’s a bit silly and a bit fun, and kids will enjoy it but parents will too.
- A Christmas Horror Story – I kind of loved this over-the-top horror flick that features William Shatner in a supporting role. Anytime you have Santa Claus as a big hulking bruiser who battles it out with an anti-Santa spirit and zombie-like elves, you know you’re in for a good time. It’s not great filmmaking, but it sure is a lot of fun.
- Applesauce – Onur Tukel wrote, directed, and stars in this weird genre mash-up, which I guess would best be called a black dramedy. When Ron confesses the worst thing he’s ever done while talking with his wife and friends, his life starts to unravel as secrets start to come out and his relationships begin to fall apart. Oh yeah, and somebody starts sending him body parts in the mail. I really liked this quirky little film, and I think it’s really different and fun.
- Nature: Soul of the Elephant – Do elephant’s have souls? This documentary seems to think so. Not that it’s about anything so metaphysical. Instead, it takes a look at the potential life journey of a pair of bull elephants. It’s both fascinating and moving, and nature program lovers will really enjoy this one, which is a step above the typical animal doc.
- WB Archives Releases – The Warner Archive continues to release rare, obscure, and out-of-print classics on DVD and Blu-ray. This week sees six new releases, including two on Blu. (All six of these titles are available exlsuviely online through WBarchive.com.) Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 9 sees five pre-code Hollywood classics making their DVD debut: Big City Blues (with a young Humphrey Bogart!), Hell’s Highway, Michael Curtiz’s The Cabin in the Cotton, the Myrna Loy-starrer When Ladies Meet, and I Sell Anything. Man Proof also stars Myrna Loy along with Rosalind Russell, and it’s a charming dramedy with great performances and a sharp script. Hotel Paradiso sees Alec Guiness and Gina Lollabrigida starring in what could best be described as a sex-romp, albeit a rated-PG one. It’s a lot of fun. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum we have Wind in the Willows, the classic animated tale by Rankin Bass Animation. A full-length 90-minute feature film, this one took me back to my childhood and it was a fun trip to take. On Blu-ray, we have Deep In My Heart, a biopic/musical about show composer Sigmund Romberg, which sees Gene Kelly and his brother Fred (in his only credited film role) along with Jane Powell, Vic Damone, Jose Ferrer, Cyd Charisse, Merle Oberon, and Howard Keel. Finally, my favorite of the new releases is the Blu-ray debut of Passage to Marseille, an excellent war film starring one of my absolute favorites, Humphrey Bogart. It was a bit controversial in its day, but it still stands out as a really terrific film.