Straight Outta Compton – One of last year’s biggest hits was also one of the better movies of the year. I was 11 years old when NWA hit the scene, so I obviously wasn’t really exposed to their music much, nor did I know much of the story of the band. This biopic does a great job of retelling the story of NWA’s inception, success, and inevitable breakdown, while also providing enough of the group’s amazing music to make people unfamiliar with them understand why they were such pioneers in the first place. This home video release also includes the Director’s Cut, which runs almost three hours long, and I actually recommend that version. It still moves at a brisk clip and it fills in some of the gaps that the shorter cut breezes over. I know some detractors have argued that the film glosses over the group’s misogyny and things like that, and I can see that it does, but it doesn’t present these guys as flawless white knights, either. This one is definitely worth tracking down.
Everest – The big-budget adventure epic Everest — which tells the true story of the deadliest day in Mount Everest’s history — is a perfectly good film. The problem is, when you’re dealing with a subject like this and you’re putting the money into it that Universal did, it needs to be better than good. It needs to be GREAT. And Everest isn’t. It’s a perfectly enjoyable film; it’s got a great cast and some spectacular visuals. But like most mountain climbing movies, it’s just hard to engage with. Everyone’s so bundled up that I often got confused about what was happening to who, and despite the impressive visuals the film just never got to that level of excitement it needed to. I will say that Jason Clarke is absolutely fantastic in the lead role, and it’s a star-making turn for sure. I’ve liked him for a while, but this is easily his best role yet.
Jem and the Holograms – Jem and the Holograms notoriously flopped at the box office last year, but surely it can’t be as bad as everyone says, right? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is. In fact, it’s worse. Jem is actually staggeringly bad. I mean, it’s so bad it actually makes you question how it ever saw the light of day. I can’t remember the last time I was actually surprised by HOW bad a movie is, but this one got me. The script is insipid and painful, the acting uninspired, the cliches tired, and around the time the robot starts leading the girls on a scavenger hunt, you’re about ready to lose your mind. And no, I’m not making that last part up. A robot leads Jem on a scavenger hunt. And the worst part is, right around the one-hour mark when you’re starting to lose your mind from the awfulness of it all, you realize it’s only half way over because the movie IS TWO HOURS LONG!! A FULL TWO HOURS! I’m not sure what insanity persuaded Universal to make — and actually release — such a travesty, but Jem is truly one of the most outrageously bad movies I’ve ever seen.
12 monkeys: Season 1 – Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys is one of my top 10 favorite films of all time. Hands down. Now, I wasn’t foolish enough to think that the SyFy TV series would compare to that film, so I’m not going to be one of those people who cries out, “It’s not as good as the movie!’ OF COURSE it’s not as good as the movie! Who thought it would be? What it is instead is a solid but uninspiring bit of genre TV that is eminently watchable, but nothing to get excited about. The two series leads, Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull, are a little dull for my tastes, and the show has some episodes that are really good and some that are less so. As a first season show it’s clearly still finding its feet, so I’m interested to see where the second season goes. But it’s not a slam dunk yet.
Inside Llewyn Davis – This recent effort from the Coen Brothers went more under the radar than their usual films do. It’s a stylized fictional tale of a Bob Dylan-esque folk singer on the 1960s. It got some mixed reviews, and I can see why. Despite some great performances — the cast boasts Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake and Garrett Hedlund — the film moves very slowly. But I have to say that I enjoyed it quite a bit despite that. I think Oscar Isaac is one of the best actors working today and even in a low-key role he shines. I think this film boils down to this: it’s simply not for everyone, and that’s okay. Some people will think it’s brilliant (which it’s not quite) and some people will hate it (which is overdoing things), but a good amount of people will just like it, and that’s not a bad thing.
Gilda – Rita Hayworth stars alongside Glenn Ford (always one of my favorites) in one of the Film Noir era’s brightest outings. Ford plays a roguish gambler who becomes right-hand-man to a wealthy casino owner. When that owner returns from a business trip with a hot new wife — someone Ford knows from his past — sparks (and tensions) fly. Obviously, the star of the show here is Rita Hayworth, who is incandescent in the title role. But the film’s suspense, cinematography, and noir trappings all ad up to equal a truly terrific gem from classic Hollywood. This new Criterion Collection edition features restored and remastered sound and picture, as well as some terrific extra features.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- The Guardian – William Friedkin sort of returns to horror after he changed the world with The Exorcist with this fantasy/horror hybrid. An odd mash-up of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle-esque thriller and fairy fantasy film, the movie is a fun watch but there are parts of it that are awfully dated. Still, this was Friedkin back when he was still a challenging filmmaker, and it’s the kind of cult classic horror film that Scream Factory excels in releasing on Blu-ray.
- The Condemned 2 – Randy Orton takes over for Stone Cold Steve Austin in this sequel to an action film from 2007 that almost no one remembers. So why make it? I wish I could say it was because it’s such a good film that they needed to make it, and tying it in to an existing WWE film was a simple marketing strategy. But Randy Orton is no Steve Austin or John Cena, and his onscreen charisma is pretty much non-existent. For the most part, this is your typical low-budget action flick with absolutely nothing to set it apart from hundreds of others of similar movies.
- Sisters: Season 3 – Take a trip back to the ’90s with this first third-season collection of the popular drama that starred Swoosie Kurtz and Sela Ward. While ultimately a family drama, this show was anything but typical, as it featured regular flashbacks to the four sisters as teenagers, and even interaction between the adult women and the teenage versions of themselves. It’s a perfect show for fans of similar fare like Thirtysomething and Once and Again.
- The Saint: Seasons 3 & 4 -A pre-Bond Roger Moore stars in this excellent adventures series about debonair modern-day Robin Hood, Simon Templar. Over the course of 118 episodes and seven seasons, Roger Moore’s Templar would help anyone he saw fit, in any way he saw fit, and wasn’t above helping himself to some treasures along the way. The show was a terrific precursor to Moore’s role as Bond, as he’s all charm, dashing, and derring-do in this show. This set features the third and fourth seasons. I love this show, and while it has been on DVD before, this is a good box set for new collectors. It’s well worth owning.
- Adventure Time – Stakes! – I’ve never been an Adventure Time fan. I just didn’t get it, couldn’t get into it, could never really see what people like about it. So I haven’t watched it in a few years, and along comes this Stakes miniseries. So I figured I’d give it a shot. I guess I can say it’s not completely terrible but I still don’t get what people love about it so much. In this eight-part series, Finn, Jake, and Princess Bubblegum help Marceline the Vampire Queen fight a bunch of enemies from her past. The more compacted narrative means that at least I could follow what was happening this time, so that’s a plus. I suspect that fans will love it.
- Pound Puppies: A Rare Pair – Pound Puppies is a cute kids’ cartoon that focuses on a lovable group of dogs. This is not the Pound Puppies I remember from my childhood, but my memories of them are hazy at best, so that’s okay. This Hub Network show is a fun cartoon with a message; in each episode the puppies of Shelter 17 work to place a dog with a home. There’s obviously a pro-animal adoption message here, but it’s never heavy handed and the show is cute, so I’m not complaining.
- A Girl Like Her – While not really horror movie, A Girl Like Her is in some sense a true horror film. Framed as a documentary, the film sees a director come to a high school where one of the students is in critical condition after a suicide attempt. By investigating, interviewing students, and — crucially — getting her hands on cell phone video of the student’s relentless bullying by a popular girl, you come to see what happened and why. And that’s what makes the film terrifying; it’s banal reality. Filmmaking-wise it’s got its ups and downs, but it’s a pretty effective film overall.
- Swamp People: Season 6 – This is a semi-interesting reality show about swamp hunters in the Louisiana bayous who have permission to hunt alligators for exactly 30 days out of every year. We follow several crews of gator hunters as they set out to bag as many reptiles as they can in the 30-day period. These are some truly hardcore people at work; not the kind of guys you’d want to get into a bar fight with, but some bigger than life personalities to boot. The show’s problem lies in the repetition. It’s the same problem I have with shows like Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, and Ax Men: after a while, watching these guys continually slaughter alligators becomes a bit boring. It’s a decent enough show to catch once in a while if it’s on, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch an entire season of it.