Goosebumps – Jack Black gets the title role, but the real star of this film is the Goosebumps name itself. Based on the uber-popular tween-aimed book series by R. L. Stine (although coming about a decade after the books peaked in popularity), this big budget romp nicely captures what made the books so much fun. It’s silly and over-the-top at times, but it does have moments that qualify as “scary.” I use quotes because this is largely a movie for kids and tweens, so the scary bits aren’t like, you know, The Ring or Poltergeist. But you get monsters and creatures and chases and magic, and the whole thing plays out kind of like a summer-camp-ghost-story version of Jumanji. I liked it, and I think kids of the right age will, too.
Jack’s Back – James Spader’s first feature film leading role was in this cult classic thriller from the 1980s, and it’s an underrated masterpiece if ever there was one. Written and directed by Rowdy Herrington (the man who brought us Road House), the film basically sees a series of udders in Los Angeles that are recreating the Jack the Ripper murders down to the smallest details. The mystery is good (with not just one but a couple of twists), Spader is fantastic, and the film holds up surprisingly well. I’ve been waiting to see this movie for most of my adult life, and I wasn’t let down by it in the least. You should definitely track this one down; it makes its debut on Blu-ray from Scream Factory this week.
Masterpiece: Downton Abbey Season 6 – The monster hit show returns to Blu-ray for its final season, and it’s a bittersweet experience if ever there was one. While I’m sad to see one of the great TV shows leave us, I do like that they chose to go out on top, rather than stringing it along until the quality had suffered and nobody cared anymore. Downton has been one of the true television joys for six years now, and I would have hated to get to the point where I just don’t care about it anymore. For one last time, the cast is excellent, the writing is stellar, and the show remained one of the very best things on TV.
Jesse Stone: Lost in Paradise – Jesse Stone: Lost in Paradise is the latest installment in CBS’s excellent line of Jesse Stone TV-movies based on Robert B. Parker’s hit novels. Tom Selleck returns as the stoic, sardonic chief of police of Paradise, Massachusetts, and as always, he’s utterly fantastic. Selleck really is the driving force behind these films being as good as they are. It’s the perfect role for him, and he plays it perfectly. What I like about the Jesse Stone movies is that they are good old-fashioned mysteries. There’s not much in the way of action scenes or special effects; just good stories, interesting characters, and solid police work. Frankly, these movies could play out well as feature films, although I surmise that the lack of big explosions and major gunfights would prevent their drawing big box office numbers. This latest film focuses on a cold case while Jesse’s on “vacation,” and — as always — it’s excellent.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- Da Vinci’s Demons: Season Three – I really wanted to like this TV show by David S. Goyer, co-writer of the Dark Knight Trilogy. After all, it’s about Leonardo Da Vinci (who I’ve long been fascinated by), it was created by Goyer (who I’m a big fan of), and it features several gorgeous ladies (who aren’t afraid to shed their clothes) in the cast. Unfortunately, the show never gets off the ground, even if some of Da Vinci’s inventions do. The writing is sometimes weak, and while Tom Riley plays Da Vinci with charm to spare, most of the rest of the cast is a dour and over-serious as can be. Also, the copious use of CGI to recreate medieval Italy is less than stellar. It looks so CGI that it comes across as fake and is ultimately distracting. I wish I could have liked this show more, but it lost me early on and never won me back. Too bad.
- The Facts of Life: Season 8 – The Facts of Life was a fact of life for just about anybody who grew up in the 80’s; I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who couldn’t sing (or at least hum) the opening song. While the show hasn’t aged all that well, there are glimmers of what made it so popular here. The show did tackle some decently After School Special-type topics, such as teenage sex, shoplifting, teen marriage, and even homosexuality, so it wears its morals on its sleeves, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Still, despite all the flaws, it’s still a fun show and a great nostalgia trip, and The Facts of Life: Season Eight will make many fans happy, especially George Clooney fans, since he was a series regular by this point.
- The Assassin – Another week, another Asian martial arts epic. This one stars the luminescent Shu Qi as a woman who is kidnapped as a child and trained as an assassin. When she grows up, guess what happens? Yep, she gets sent to assassinate people. I joke, but that is basically the gist of this film. That said, it is well-shot, well-directed, and well-acted, and at only 106 minutes it’s also not overly long like so many Asian action films seem to be lately. Worth a watch if you’re into the genre.
- Sonny Boy – I guarantee you that if you’ve never seen this film, you have no idea what you’re getting into. A horror/exploitation/grindhouse/action flick that has seen very little light of day, this oddball film stars David Carradine as a woman (yes, you read that right), and features an orphaned baby that is trained to be a killing machine. And then things get really weird. Cannibalism, big guns, juan experimentation, desert hideouts, and ore grue and grime than you can shake a stick at. Here’s the thing; this isn’t really my kind of movie. But I know a whole lot of horror movie fans who would go ape for something this bizarre and original and strange. If you’re one of those people, track Sonny Boy down immediately.
- A Brilliant Young Mind – Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins, and Eddie Marsan star in this drama about a young math prodigy who struggles with real-world relationships but is brilliant with numbers. The film doesn’t shy away from the fact that he’s on the autism spectrum, and since the film is based on a true story, it doesn’t feel exploitative. As he enters a major math competition, his feelings become difficult to deal with, especially when he meets someone special. It’s not a film for everyone, but it’s a touching little drama that I enjoyed overall.
- The New Girlfriend – While the box art and cover description leave you unsure of whether this is a comedy or a thriller, it’s actually a drama with some light moments thrown in. The story focuses on a woman whose best friend dies and when she goes to check up on her ate friend’s husband, he finds her dressed in his dead wife’s clothes. While it sounds like it could be a farce or a creepy thriller, it’s actually about gender identity, loss, and love. I can’t say I loved it, but it’s not a bad film either.
- Black Work – The British do mystery television like nobody’s business, and Acorn releases some of the best of the bunch. You’d never find a by-the-numbers procedural like CSI or NCIS coming out of British TV. Instead, you get shows like Black Work, in which a police detective investigating the death of her husband begins to find out secrets that cause her life to unravel. With a terrific lead performance from Sheridan Smith and a compact, three-episode running length, this one is a terrific thriller for fans of real television mysteries.
- Nickelodeon Favorites: Whiskers & Paws – This latest multi-show collection from Nickelodeon includes episode of Dora the Explorer, Bubble Guppies, Paw Patrol, Shimmer & Shine, Blue’s Clues, and Fresh Beat Band of Spies. As always, these discs have a theme, and this one is pretty easy to figure out: pets. Six episodes total are included and the price point is pretty low, so this is a good one for kids who still have a few weeks left before school starts. The full list of episodes includes: Shimmer and Shine: Abraca-Genie, PAW Patrol: Pups Leave Marshall Home Alone/ Pups Save the Mischievous Kitten, Dora and Friends: Puppy Princess Rescue, Fresh Beat Band of Spies: Bunnies Go Bananas, Bubble Guppies: Bubble Kitty, Blue’s Clues: ¡Un Día Con Plum!.
- SuperWhy: Three Billy Goats Gruff – Super Why is another fun cartoon that my kids enjoy.The show focuses on a team of super readers (kind of like kid superheroes) whose mission usually involves some kind of reading/letter activities. Super Why: Three Billy Goats Gruff follows the usual formula of using fairy tales and classic story tropes to teach kids how to read. This is one of those shows that blends being entertaining and educational exceptionally well, and I think most parents would be pleased to have their kids watch this.