Ant-Man – I would be lying if I said I thought that Ant-Man was in the upper echelons of the Marvel movie universe. It’s not The Avengers or Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it sure is a lot of fun. I’ve always been a big Paul Rudd fan, and this is like the role he was born to play. Rather than being the prototypical superhero, Rudd’s Scott Lang is a convicted felon, a thief with a conscience. When he is enlisted to help protect the world from a megalomaniacal weapons designer, he becomes Ant-Man, more by accident than anything else. The film is filled with humor and great special effects, and while it’s not an all-out action spectacle, the action scenes are quite good. It also sets up a second film quite nicely in a way that feels organic and not forced. Plus, come on, Michael Douglas!! It’s hard to call a film that broke $500 million worldwide a sleeper, but this one sort of fits the bill.
Minions – Not surprisingly, Minions was one of the biggest hits of the year. I say not surprisingly because the Minions have always been the funniest parts of the Despicable Me movies, so of course their “solo” film was going to be a big hit. What was surprising was that I didn’t like it more. I love the Despicable Me movies and I love the Minions, so I expected this movie to be a slam dunk. Instead, it’s merely okay. I didn’t not like it, but it didn’t come close to being as funny as I wanted it to be. Maybe they’re better in supporting roles rather than full on leading roles, or maybe it just didn’t click for me, but whatever the reason I’m much more looking forward to Despicable Me 3 than I am Minions 2.
Speedy – Silent film star giant Harold Lloyd was once the biggest thing at the box office, but his star has faded much more than his compatriots Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. A lot of that comes from the fact that his estate was notoriously stingy with the release of films after his death. The Criterion Collection is working to remedy that with their second Harold Lloyd film this year, Speedy. Lloyd’s last silent movie, this one sees his “glasses character” (spiritually akin to Chaplin’s Little Tramp) trying to hold down a job. As with most silent comedies, plot isn’t what drives things, but Lloyd’s adept physical comedy is. It’s comedy from another time, but it’s just as funny now as it was then. Plus, as a Criterion release, you get remastered and restored sound and picture as well as some great extra features, including another Lloyd short film.
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie – I love Shout Factory. Their commitment to bringing the best in cult classics and forgotten movies to light in the best possible way is second to none. And I was excited as heck to see The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, because I was a huge fan of the trading cards as a kid, and because I had never actually seen the film before. And while I applaud Shout’s release of the film on Blu-ray for the first time, nothing can change the fact that this is one of the worst movies I’ve ever had the misfortune to suffer through in my entire life. I’m sure it will satisfy a nice nostalgia kick for some people out there, but for anyone looking for anything even remotely resembling a quality film, look elsewhere.
Knock Knock – I once interviewed Eli Roth, and he was hands-down one of the best interviews I’ve ever done. He was incredibly cool, funny, smart, humble, down-to-earth, and engaging. It was awesome. I just wish he made better movies. I like Cabin Fever, but I’m not really a fan of the Hostel films. With Knock Knock, I thought maybe this was chance to see what he can do outside of the torture porn genre. And honestly, I don’t even know what to think of this film. Part of me had a little fun watching it, part of me hated every minute of it. I don’t know if it’s just because of the discomfort I felt while watching Keanu Reeves’ character’s life unravel violently, or the fact that the film just seemed to get worse as it went on, or the fact that there was very little point to it, but whatever it was, it certainly isn’t a film I would ever want to sit through again. Bummer.
Under the Dome: Season 3 – Under the Dome has a lot of flaws. The writing is occasionally kind of poor, with dodgy dialogue and contrivances aplenty. The acting is also occasionally suspect, and there’s a sense of “How long can they sustain this?” So why do I enjoy it so much? Anchored by charismatic turns by lead actors Dean Norris, Mike Vogel, Rachelle LeFevre, Alexander Koch, and Eddie Cahill, the show gives us mystery after mystery, but never feels as convoluted or bloated as something like Lost. Sure, this show has issues, but it’s too much fun to care. And while the second season was a bit of a slog, the third season took things in a new direction and got really interesting… just in time to get canceled. Oh well.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- Hannibal: Season 3 – Hannibal was a bit of a slow starter for me, but it has definitely hooked me more as each season has gone on. The show works as sort of a prequel series to the events of Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal (the movie), and while I don’t typically care for prequels, it works well enough in these circumstances. Mads Mikkelsen is terrific (as always) as Dr. Lecter, and there are some nice in-joke nods towards the events of the films themselves. I also applaud the show for it’s top notch production values and it’s willingness not to soft-pedal things; this is a pretty intense and — at times — grotesque series. It’s also managed to garner a solid fan base, so it looks like it’ll be around for a while.
- Unauthorized Full House Story – I’m not sure why this movie had to be “unauthorized.” It’s about as tame as they come. If you’re looking for lurid tales of teenage sex and drugs or child abuse or who knows what, you’ve come to the wrong place. Instead, this TV movie tells the Full House tale from the point of view of the actors involved. That being said, as a casual fan of Full House but not a die-hard fan, I did end up enjoying it quite a bit. The cast does a pretty good job of playing versions of all the actors we know and love. Full House fans, this may not be the tell-all you were hoping for, but it’s pretty fun nonetheless.
- Women’s Prison Massacre – Generally speaking, I think this falls under the category of “The name tells you everything you need to know about this film.” It’s a 1983 Italian exploitation flick from exploit-master Bruno Mattei, and it’s a pretty bad film overall. Not only is the beget non-existent and the acting and dialogue terrible, but it’s actually surprisingly light on the sex and violence that most people who come to a film called Women’s Prison Massacre are looking for. Again, props to Shout Factory for their commitment to cult classics, but this isn’t a very good film.
- Partisan – This slow-burning dramatic thriller takes the “most unusual film of the week” award this week. Vincent Cassel stars as Gregori, a man who is something of a cult leader that’s training the kids in his cult to become assassins. It sounds like the set-up for an action movie, but this one is all about character conflict, atmosphere, and mood, rather than it is about action. It’s an okay film with great performances, but it is unique and intriguing, so there is a lot to like about it.
- One & Two – Grant Bowler and Elizabeth Reaser star alongside main actors Kiernan Shipka and Timothee Chalamet in this glacially paced sci-fi drama. The story focuses on a family who live inside a giant fence. Why is the fence there? Why does the family live inside it? Why are the two kids showing evidence of supernatural powers? Do you like all these questions? Good, because questions is what you get while watching this film, with very few answers. The film had a lot of potential, but it definitely doesn’t live up to it
- One Eyed Girl – In what could make up the final act of a trilogy binge-watch with Partisan and One & Two, One Eyed Girl is another cult-based dramatic thriller. This one follows a suicidal psychiatrist who gets sucked into a cult after the death of one of his patients, and followed him as things start to get weirder and darker. The cast of unknowns is quite good, and they help propel the story to strong effect. It’s not a perfect film, but it definitely checks the right boxes and delivers a solid viewing experience.
- Emptying the Skies – Bestselling author Jonathan Franzen is best known for his book The Corrections, but here he takes on a different role. This film is based on his New Yorker essay about a troubling drop in bird populations due to the rampant poaching of migratory songbirds in southern Europe. It plays out sort of like The Cove (with songbirds replacing dolphins) and it’s both moving and disturbing. I can’t say it’s a film for everyone but if you’re a documentary fan, it’s worth watching.
- CPO Sharkey: The Best of Season 1 – Shout Factory continues their weird trend of double dipping on shows that don’t need to be double dipped on. The show only ran for two seasons, both of which are now available for a relatively low price. So did we really need a “best-of” collection already? The show stars Don Rickles as a gruff (but secretly warm-hearted) Chief Petty Officer at a Naval training facility. Newly under the command of a woman and with a bunch of recruits of varying ethnic backgrounds, the show is a spotlight for Rickles’ brand of put-down humor. What’s funny is that many of the jokes in this show probably couldn’t make it on the air today, which make it kind of refreshing. For a series that’s 30 years old, I have to admit, I enjoyed this quite a bit.
- Dora & Friends: Season 1 – Dora & Friends features the retooled, more grown-up Dora and her friends; think more Bratz than Dora (although much less bratty) and you get the idea. This new release marks a departuee from the usual Nickelodeon formula by giving buyers a full first season rather than just the traditional four-episode release we’ve come to expect. Here you get 18 episodes, including two double-length episodes, for a whole lot of Dora fun.
- The Mind of a Chef: Season Four – David Kinch takes the spotlight in this season of the popular PBS show. What I like about this show is that it’s a little bit of everything. We see interesting meals getting prepared, but this is no simple cooking show. Kinch takes us behind the scenes of his restaurant and also travels to New Orleans, and the focus is as often on people as it is food. It’s a hard show to categorize, and it fits more alongside something like Man Vs. Food (spiritually, not in terms of content) than it does a straight cooking show.
- Iwo Jima: From Combat to Comrades – This moving documentary follows three surviving American soldiers of the conflict on Iwo Jima and one surviving Japanese soldier as they return to Iwo Jima to meet during a special honor ceremony. The film recaps the events of the fateful battle son Iwo Jim and also lets you witness these men’s experiences in revisiting Iwo Jim, and the effect is incredibly powerful. I highly recommend it.
- American Masters: Althea – This terrific one-hour special serves as a biography of 1950s tennis star Althea Gibson, recounting her childhood, her rise to stardom, and her astounding tennis career. As someone who loves tennis but has only been cursorily familiar with Althea Gibson’s career achievements and impact on the game, I found this documentary extremely interesting.
- Lucky – What looks from the cover art to be a movie about punk music is instead a harrowing documentary about a young homeless mom named Lucky Torres. Covered in tattoos and sporting a shock of multi-colored hair, Lucky doesn’t seem like what most people think of as a homeless person. That’s where the power of this documentary comes in, using Lucky as a touchstone to share the homeless experience. It’s not an easy watch, but it is a powerful one.