The Martian – Matt Damon stars in one of the year’s best films, as an astronaut stranded on Mars when his crew leaves him behind after mistakenly thinking him dead. This is a science fiction film, yes, but it’s more like a science factual film. It’s not filled with Star Trek-type technology, but rather presented as a realistic look at what would happen if one of today’s astronauts was stranded on an other planet with the current technology and space travel methods we currently possess. The most surprising thing about it is not just that it’s the rare Ridley Scott film that’s good — as I am not a fan of the revered director’s — but just how funny it is. (So much so that it got nominated as a comedy by the Golden Globes, which is not accurate.) Matt Damon is fantastic, the story and script are great, and the film is just a lot of fun from start to finish. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.
Sinister 2 – Of all the single word horror franchises — Insidious, Annabelle, Unfriended — Sinister is easily my favorite. I really enjoyed the first Sinister, and I was equally pleased with Sinister 2. Although it ups the blood quotient a little bit this go around (but there was hardly any in the first film), this is still a much more measured, intelligent horror film than most of the others, eschewing cheap jumps and easy scares for building a slow sense of dread and suspense. If you haven’t seen either of the films yet, I recommend them; heck, make a double feature horror night out of it.
Mr. Robot: Season 1 – Christian Slater in a TV show that — gasp! — doesn’t get canceled?!? And is actually good?!? Will wonders never cease? I think the key to his success here is that he takes on a supporting role (although still a major one) and allows young Rami Malek to shine in the lead role. The show is about a young computer hacker who is recruited to spy on the very corporation he works in cyber-security for. The show is timely and stylish, with a real identity to itself. It doesn’t feel like other shows on TV, and that’s definitely a good thing. The first season is just 10 episodes, making for an easy binge watch, and it’s worth doing so.
Irrational Man – Woody Allen’s latest was a complete non-starter on the box office front, and this time around it didn’t even get the usual award accolades an Allen film receives. I guess this is what most critics would call a “minor” Woody Allen film, but personally, I find most of his films to be “minor” ones. This one involves a burned-out professor in a love triangle who overhears a woman’s conversation and decides — seemingly out of nowhere — to kill a man as a result of it. While this sounds like an interesting plot twist, it’s random and odd and it still results in 90% of the film being typical Allen talk, talk, talk. I guess if you’re a Woody Allen fan check it out, but I’m not really one and I thought it was just okay.
Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead – This 20th Anniversary Edition marks the film’s first time on Blu-ray. I’ll admit, I’ve been familiar with this movie for years but had never actually watched it until now. Of course, with Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfuss in the cast, it has to be at least worth watching, right? I have to say, the answer is a resounding… mostly. All three actors are terrific, and the plot is great (what are two minor characters from Hamlet doing when they’re not in the action?), but this existential comedy is sometimes a bit hard to follow. Of course, it’s not really a plot-driven movie, and the sharp dialogue keeps you engaged, but I’d say for me it’s more of a like-it-rather-then-love-it film.
- Stanford Prison Experiment – I wish this movie had gotten more attention because it really deserves watching. Not only does it dramatize one of the most famous psychological experiments ever (what happens when you take students and make them prisoners and guards and give the guards absolute power?), but it also has an amazing cast that includes Tye Sheridan (one of my favorite young actors) Billy Crudub, Michael Angarano (another favorite), and Olivia Thirlby. It’s a fascinating story in its own right — made all the more so because its true — and this movie brings it to life in powerful fashion.
- The Image Revolution – I loved this documentary. Admittedly, I’m close to the source material — having lived through the events and owning a comic book store at the time — but I loved it anyway. In the early 1990s, seven of Marvel Comics’ biggest superstars abruptly left Marvel and started their own company, Image Comics. What was supposed to be the biggest thing in the history of comic books made a huge splash, and then crashed and burned, only to be resurrected a few years later. This awesome new film interviews all seven of the major players (including a few household names like Todd McFarlane) and gives us our first real glimpse of how everything went down. Fascinating stuff, and a must-watch for comic fans.
- Duck Dynasty: Wedding Special – It’s Duck Dynasty. There’s a wedding. That’s about all I can bring myself to say about this. If you like Duck Dynasty, you’ll enjoy this. If not, don’t bother.
- Hill Street Blues: Final Season – The epic run of one of television’s most beloved shows comes to an end. Once in a great while a television show will come along that defines a genre, and Hill Street Blues was one of them. Although it wasn’t the first police drama, it certainly was one of the first of its kind to add the element of gritty realism to the genre. Following Hill Street Blues there were a variety of imitations; many of them were good in their own right, but you can thank Hill Street Blues for later police dramas like Miami Vice, Cagney and Lacey, T.J. Hooker, NYPD Blue, The Shield and even to some extent, the CSI shows. Hill Street Blues: The Final Season is the last single season collection and fans will be thrilled to complete their collections. While it may not be as cutting edge or racy as many of today’s television shows, Hill Street Blues is as sharp as they come.
- The Wonder Years: Season Four – One of the most beloved shows of the 80s/90s, The Wonder Years continues its run on DVD, with the The Wonder Years: Season Four on DVD. There is also a limited edition set of the entire series available through StarVista online, but this set includes just the entire fourth season. One of the best things about this release is that the distributor went through and secured the rights to ALL of the music in the set, so the show’s indelible soundtrack is intact. What better time to welcome Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper back into your home?
- So You Said Yes – Kellie Martin (where has she been?) and Bruce Boxleitner star in this Hallmark movie about a wedding store owner who fall in love with a lawyer (whose evil mom owns the competing bridal store and is out to keep them apart.) These movies are largely terrible, but I enjoy them anyway. Why? Because Hallmark movies just are what they are, and if you get into the right mindset, they can be a lot of fun. With Bruce Boxleitner (a favorite of mine) in a support in role, I enjoyed this one and fans of Lifetime fare will as well.
- All Of My Heart – The second Hallmark movie release of the week, this one sees Lacey Chabert and Ed Asner starring (not as a couple, mind you.) This is your typical boy-meets-girl, boy-hates-girl, boy-falls-in-love-with-girl movie, but it has its charms. Again, it’s nothing great, but if you like these cheesy rom-com Hallmark movies, there’s plenty to like.
- Painkillers – Battlestar Galactica‘s Tahmoh Penikett and character actor Colm Feore star in this low-budget sci-fi tale that’s better than it should be. It suffers a bit from the budgetary limitations (the sets and scenery look pretty bad), but the story is interesting and Penikett is terrific in the lead role, carrying the film as well in the action scenes as he does in the non-action scenes. Worth a look if you’re a genre fan and not afraid of poor production values.
- Contracted: Phase 2 – This sequel to Contracted a sort of zombie/infection hybrid film picks up where the first one left off and sort of manages to take things in a new direction while also not straying too far from the first film. Storywise I can’t say to much as to avoid spoilers but I can say that it’s a pretty tense ride throughout with some genuinely creepy and disturbing moments. Plus a good amount of “ick.” Genre fans should enjoy this one.
- Bolero/Ghosts Can’t Do It – This new double feature from Shout Factory features Bo Derek in the lead roles in both films. Bolero is a steamy sudser which is mostly notable for the love scenes, while Ghosts Can’t Do It is a surprisingly good (if dated) comedy about a woman being guided by the ghost of her dead husband to find a body for his soul to be reincarnated in. It’s not great filmmaking, but it’s charming and Bo Derek is having a good time in it.
- Love Finds You In Charm – You know how I said I love Hallmark movies? Well, this isn’t exactly a Hallmark movie, but it strikes the sweet spot for a certain audience. For me, I can’t get past a film that includes this sentence in the official description: “When Emma’s popular homemade goat cheese attracts the attention of a local bed-and-breakfast and a handsome wine-and-cheese blog editor, Andy (Drew Fuller), she finds herself pulled between two worlds and two men.” I think that tells you everything you need to know.
- Hate Crimes in the Heartland – This brief documentary looks at two hate crimes in Oklahoma that happened almost a century apart. The thrust of the program is the fact that racism and crimes driven by it are alive and well in middle America. It’s not the best documentary I’ve ever seen, but it does cover some interesting ground.
- Reading Rainbow: Miss Nelson is Back – Reading Rainbow is a bona fide classic children’s television show. I doubt I have to spend too much time telling you what it is. Similar to the many, many Scholastic releases I’ve reviewed over the years, this disc contains four children’s stories that have been adapted for television. The four stories included are: Miss Nelson is Back, Our Big Home, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, and Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express.