Terminator: Genisys – While this latest entry in the Terminator franchise was undoubtedly a failure in the US, it was a big hit overseas, leaving the future of the franchise somewhat uncertain. For my money, I really liked it. Sure, it has some flaws, but the action scenes are great, it’s fun to see Schwarzenegger back in the lead role, and the nods to the original film are utterly fantastic. There is one sequence that’s literally shot-for-shot, angle-for-angle exactly the same as in the first film, and for die-hard fans like me, it’s a real tribute. Sure, some of the time-travel storyline gets a little overcomplicated, and there are some unanswered questions at the end of the film but it’s a solid entry in one of my favorite film franchises of all time.
Trainwreck – I really wish Judd Apatow would stop making movies. I’ve never been a big fan of his and Trainwreck actually ranks as one of his better films (not that that’s saying a whole lot), but he hasn’t met a movie yet he couldn’t ruin by directing it himself. There’s a funny movie somewhere in Trainwreck, but you have to wade through a two-hour-plus movie to get to it. No comedy ever needs to be two hours. If this was a 90-minute comedy it would have been about 100 times better. And as you’re watching it, there are so many scenes that are unnecessary, not funny, or go on too long. And it’s a shame, becuase Bill Hader is terrific as always, and John Cena and Kobe Bryant are both really funny. If anything, Amy Schumer is the least funny part of the movie, because every time she opens her mouth, it’s to resort to some lowest-common-denominator humor, usually punctuated with excessive swearing. Despite all its flaws, I enjoyed Trainwreck overall, but man, it could have been such a better film by losing 30 minutes of its running time.
Self/less – Ryan Reynolds stars in this sci-fi action thriller that starts off promisingly but soon devolves into more of the same. The film starts with Ben Kingsley, a terminally ill billionaire business tycoon. He undergoes a secret process called shedding, in which his brain is transported into a young man’s body (at which point Ryan Reynolds takes over the film.) Everything starts off swimmingly, until he starts getting flashes of memory of someone else’s life. I really liked the first third of this film, as it took the time to build up Reynolds/Kingsley’s character and show him going through the change and adapting to a new life. Unfortunately, once the “action” starts, the film devolves into just another chase movie, with echoes of Total Recall, Paycheck, and a dozen other movies. It’s an enjoyable enough movie, I just wish it had done something more original.
Mr. Holmes – Continuing a string of disappointing movies this week, Mr. Holmes is a somewhat charming but equally flawed film. Ian McKellen turns in a typically excellent performance as Sherlock Holmes near the end of his life, as he reflects upon one of his last mysteries and also forms a bond with his housekeeper’s young son. The trailer for this film was fantastic, and it does have its charms. But it’s awfully slow, and while a seemingly unnecessary subplot taking place in Japan does pay off in the end, it feels like filler while you’re watching it. Again, McKellen’s performance alone makes this one worth watching, but I wish it had been a bit more sprightly.
Better Call Saul: Season 1 – As someone who’s never quite gotten around to watching Breaking Bad past the first half of the first season, I wasn’t terribly interested in Better Call Saul, mostly to avoid spoilers (since I do plan on finishing BB one of these days.) But when the DVDs crossed my desk for review, I decided the time had come. The show obviously follows Saul Goodman, Walter White’s lawyer, in the time before he got caught up with White’s criminal empire. Here, he’s finding his place in the lawyering world, and he’s not always successful. I never thought I’d see Bob Odenkirk anchor his own show, but he represents well here. It’s not Breaking Bad, and hopefully most people won’t expect it to be. Better Call Saul carves out its own identity, ad that’s a good thing.
Code Unknown – Acclaimed German filmmaker Michael Haneke (Funny Games) gets the Criterion treatment with Code Unknown, a 2000 drama set in France. Preceding Oscar-winner Crash by four years the film has a lot of similarities: it’s a series of single-take story vignettes following different characters that are only related by a minor incident on the streets Paris. Unlike Crash, though, this is like a master class in filmmaking, as Haneke gets amazing performances out of his actors without a single cut or edit in each vignette. It’s not as zeitgeist-y as some of his other works, like the brilliant Funny Games, but it’s still pretty terrific film overall. Fully remastered and restored sound and picture and a host of new extra features just round out this excellent offering.
Pay the Ghost – Nicholas Cage stars in this supernatural thriller about a man whose son disappears on Halloween night. A year later, he starts receiving ghostly clues that might lead to the discovery of what happened to his son. As with most of Nicolas Cage’s oeuvre in recent years, this one is a solidly watchable. It’s got some creepy moments, and Nicolas Cage does his usual brand of overacting, but I have to say I kind of enjoyed it. Pus, Cage rarely delves into supernatural-themed films, so it was kind of fun to see him in something different.
Manimal: The Complete Series & Automan: The Complete Series – As a child of the 80s, there are three TV series I’ve been waiting to arrive on home video for, well, 30 years. Shout Factory has made my dreams come true by releasing two of the three this week on DVD. (I’m still waiting for Misfits of Science, Shout Factory!) Manimal starred Simon MacCorkindale as a professor-cum-crimefighter who could transform into any animal he wants. Automan starred Desi Arnaz Jr. as a police computer programmer who creates a holographic crime fighter. I watched every episode of these shows when I was a kid, and they’ve stuck with me all these years. Watching them now, they’re obviously dated, but I still really enjoyed watching them. Manimal holds up better, probably because of all the computer-based parts of the plot of Automan, but both have their charms. What’s nice is that each of these releases are full-blown collector’s editions, with new extra features and collector’s booklets in each one. Well done Shout Factory!
Flowers in the Attic/ Petals on the Wind/ If There Be Thorns/ Seeds of Yesterday: 4-Film Collection – I’ve actually never read any of the Flowers in the Attic books, so I really didn’t know what to expect with this Lifetime TV movie series. I knew the story had something to do with incest, and that’s about it. So watching these films was something of a revelation for me, and I actually really liked them. They’re dark and twisted, and each of them has their own high points. The first film is the best of the series, but they’re all pretty enjoyable. Petals isn’t as good as Flowers, but it’s still interesting and has a pretty bold ending that I liked. Similarly, Thorns doesn’t live up to Flowers, but it’s still interesting and following this twisted family through their journey is kind of addictive. It is the weakest of the series, though. The final installment, Seeds of Yesterday, is the strongest one since the first one. By moving the setting back to Foxworth Mansion and completing the saga of the Dollenganger clan, this film really gets back to the juicy excitement of the first two films, after the semi-disappointing third one. Heather Graham isn’t in this one (for story reasons, not because she didn’t return as an actor), but the real revelation here is young James Maslow, formerly of Big Time Rush, who takes center stage as a grown-up Bart and steals the show.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- Nathan For You: Seasons One & Two – I had heard good things about Nathan Fielder’s reality/parody/comedy show, and after having finally watched it, I’m really not sure how I feel about it. The show follows Fielder as he offers his help to struggling businesses, very similar to other shows like The Profit or Hell’s Kitchen. The difference here is that Fielder comes up with incredibly stupid ideas (think poop-flavored frozen yogurt) and sells them to the unsuspecting owners, who aren’t in on the joke. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, but there are some moments that are really funny. Some of the segments are stupid, and some are incredibly clever. It’s pretty hit or miss, and while I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it either.
- Gosei Sentai Dairanger: The Complete Series – Before the Power Rangers there was Gosei Sentai Dairanger: The Complete Series. This is one of the original Asian series that inspired the Power Rangers in its raw, unadulterated form. It’s wacky, over the top, and cheesy, but for adult fans of the Power Rangers (and I know there are more than a few out there), it’s an interesting look behind the history of the show. With 10 discs and 17 hours of programming, there’s a lot of bang for your buck here, weird as the buck may be.
- Restless – An excellent cast (that includes Hayley Atwell, Rufus Sewell, and Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery) headlines this dramatic spy-thriller series from across the pond. Dockery plays a woman who discovers that her mother was a British Spy in the 1940s (Atwell, returning to her Agent Carter/Captain America roots). While ostensibly set in the thriller genre, this is really more of a drama as we learn how the young Eva was recruited as a spy and see what happens years later when she’s discovered by her daughter. Excellent performances and a strong storyline make this one worth watching.
- WKRP In Cincinnati: The Final Season – Maybe I’m dating myself, but I loved WKRP in Cincinnati when I was a kid. Watching it now, I’m pretty sure that half the jokes went right over my head (although I do remember being in love with Loni Anderson just like everyone else, so I must have gotten at least a few of them.) WKRP In Cincinnati is a great example of a real ensemble comedy; from Loni Anderson’s Jennifer to uber-nerd Les Nessman to Dr. Fever and Venus Flytrap, WKRP featured a core of eccentric and interesting characters. Sadly, the humor on WKRP definitely shows its age. That’s not to say it’s a bad show, but it has lost some of the shine that made the show so appealing in its heyday.
- Maude: Season 3 – A spin-off of All in the Family (and created by the legendary Norman Lear, as was AITF), Maude was a showcase for the singular talents of Bea Arthur, who was absolutely brilliant in the lead role as a brash, opinionated, intelligent woman who was never afraid to call things the way she saw them. With a supporting cast that included Bill Macy, Adrienne Barbeau, Conrad Bain and Rue McClanahan and tons of great guest stars this season collection is a treasure trove of comedy greatness.
- Cook’s Country: Season 8 – This is an interesting take on the classic cooking show. It takes place in a renovated 1806 farmhouse with a full working test kitchen, and a live audience watches while “neighbors” stop by with cooking problems that need immediate attention. Enter show host Christopher Kimball, a slightly engaging guy who will fix said problem, while usually teaching the audience some great tips and tricks and sharing yummy looking recipes. It’s different from the usual cooking show, but also largely the same. I guess it’s just cozier!
- Warner Archive Releases – The Warner Archive print-on-demand service has some new offerings this week: Cry of the Hunted, Smart Girls Don’t Talk, The Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection, Rapa Nui, and Indepenence Day (not the aliens-attacking-earth one.) Rapa Nui is probably one of the more well-known films of the bunch. Directed by Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Waterworld), the film stars Jason Scott Lee and Esai Morales as warriors on the ancient island of Rapa Nui competing for the heart of a girl. It was never a big hit despite the considerable budget, but I like this film quite a bit. The Wild Bill Elliott Collection features eight Wild Bill movies on three discs: The Longhorn, Waco, Kansas Territory, The Maverick, Rebel City, Topeka, Vigilante Terror, and The Forty-Niners. Most of these films have faded into obscurity, but if you’re a fan of westerns, there a some really good classic in here. Virginia Mayo stars in the surprisingly good Smart Girls Don’t Talk, a noir film about a girl caught between the law and the man she loves. I love noir movies anyway, but this one is quite enjoyable. I think I would have liked Independence Day better if it did have some aliens in it, but instead we get a fairly typical melodrama with a decent cast.
- PBS Releases – Five new PBS releases hit shelves this week: On Two Fronts Latinos & Vietnam, Nature: Nature’s Miracle Orphans, My Italian Secret: The Forgotten Heroes, Henry & Anne: The Lovers Who Changed History, and The Jewish Journey: America. On Two Fronts focuses on the Latino experience in the Vietnam War. I like these types of programs because they showcase a different side of something that’s been covered ad nauseum, shedding a new perspective on Vietnam. Nature’s Miracle Orphans follows five adorable baby animals who are taken in by foster mothers in nature, including a koala, a wallaby, a baby sloth, a young kangaroo, and a baby fruit bat. My Italian Secret is similar to On Two Fronts in that it shows us a side of World War II that is often ignored, exploring how the war affected Italy and what the Italian people did to help save lives during the war. Henry & Anne is a profile of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and it looks to answer questions about their famous relationship. Finally, The Jewish Journey packs a lot into its one-hour running time, exploring the Jewish culture and what made many people bring their families to the US in the 20th century, as well as how Jews have been treated in other parts of the world.