Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs – The one that started it all… and that’s probably all that I really need to say about Snow White. I prefer not to give history lessons in my reviews, so all I can do is tell you how I feel about the film, and in this case, this is a movie that I both enjoy and appreciate. That’s an important distinction in my mind; while there are some classic movies I can appreciate for their historical value, sometimes that doesn’t translate to actually liking the film. In the case of Snow White, I think the movie holds up amazingly well after eight decades and I can enjoy the film for purely storytelling reasons as well as to marvel at the technological and artistic achievements of this classic piece of cinematic history. While Disney is touting this as a new release (and it does have some new extra features), Snow White has been available not only on DVD but also Blu-ray before, so buyer beware if you already have it.
Bridge of Spies – The combination of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks should be a slam dunk, but neither of the two film greats has been producing their best work lately. Bridge of Spies is a film that gets a lot right, yet somehow it never all comes together to make for a truly compelling film. Hanks is terrific as always, Spielberg’s direction is sure-handed, and the script is well-written. But the story is never as gripping as it could be, and while I can appreciate a drama masquerading as a spy thriller, what I really wanted was a great spy thriller.
The Last Witch Hunter – My understanding is that this was something of a passion project for Vin Diesel, and I found myself asking… why? He could have had his pick of projects after the last few Fast & Furious movies made a bazillion dollars at the box office, so why this uninspired fantasy flick? Sure, it’s watchable garbage, but it’s garbage all the same. Basically, you get to watch Diesel growl and grumble his way through a nonsense script while he fights a bunch of special effects. Haven’t we been down that road before in the Riddick films, Babylon AD, etc.? Come on, Vin, let’s get back to the days of Boiler Room and Pitch Black: movies that thrilled and had heart.
Our Brand Is Crisis – Sandra Bullock has had so many hits over the past few years, it was bound to happen that she would have a flop, and Our Brand is Crisis was it. Now, it’s not actually a bad film, I just think people didn’t really want to see Sandra Bullock as an acerbic political advisor who tries to manipulate an election. If you want to see how corrupt the world of politics is before elected officials even get into office, this is the film that will show you. Still, there’s a great cast that also includes Billy Bob Thornton, Scoot McNairy, Zoe Kazan, and Anthony Mackie. I didn’t love this film, didn’t hate it. It’s interesting but uneven, and I can see why it didn’t do well at the box office.
Batman: Bad Blood – Both a standalone movie and a sequel of sorts to Batman and Son and Batman Vs. Robin, this newest animated effort from the DC Animated Universe is another solid entry in the franchise. I really wish DC would stop adapting stroylines with Damian Wayne (Bruce’s son who’s trained as an assassin), because I hate the character. He’s like the Scrappy Doo of the Batman Universe. That said, this story that (very loosely) adapts Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated comic books is enjoyable despite Damian’s presence. Parents be aware, however, that these films are PG-13 for a reason, so careful with letting younger kids watch it.
Rock the Kasbah – Another Bill Murray movie. Sometimes, that’s just how I feel about Bill Murray. I know he’s become this sort of internet hero — and he’ll always be Peter Venkman to me — but it’s been a long time since I’ve really liked him and this whole internet legend/sasquatch of Hollywood thing he’s got going on really turns me off. As for this film, it strikes me very much as a Murray-doing-Murray thing, which means if you’re a fan you’ll probably like it. But despite a great supporting cast (Zooey Deschanel, Bruce Willis, Scott Caan), I found the film kind of dull and irritating. So determine your level of Murray fandom, and then decide if you want to watch this one.
Show Me a Hero – I’ve been a huge Oscar Isaac fan since long before he appeared in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and I will watch anything with him in it. I hadn’t heard a single mention of Show Me a Hero in the press while it was airing, but I was excited to get a copy to review now that it’s on Blu-ray and DVD. Isaac plays a mayor in Yonkers, New York who is forced to build low-income housing in predominantly white neighborhoods. The political and racial backlash that occurs is astounding. This six-episode miniseries is based on a true story and is directed by Paul Haggis (Crash). Although Haggis isn’t always my favorite director, he does a good job here, but the real star of the show is Oscar Isaac, who is absolutely amazing as always. This timely story is definitely worth tracking down.
Truth – Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford in the same film? Sign me up. One of today’s best actresses teaming up with one of cinema’s greatest actors is something we don’t get to see enough of, so I was excited to sit down and watch this film. Add in the fact that it’s about journalism (a subject near and dear to my heart), and you have all the ingredients for a real slam dunk. The story focuses on the real-life events that basically brought down Dan Rather at CBS (the George W. Bush military service story), and I’m sure that that alone will turn some people off. But this isn’t a film about George Bush; it’s about the media’s complicated relationship with politics, the woman who brought the story to light, and how it basically ended one man’s career. Moving, gripping, fascinating, this one is terrific.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- Suffragette – Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep star in this historical film based on the real women’s rights movements that took place in the early 20th century. While Streep takes a supporting role for a change, Mulligan steps into the lead quite nicely and delivers a terrific performance that really anchors the film. This era in history is long enough ago that many people have forgotten when women were treated like barely second class citizens (if even), but this is a powerful reminder of what women had to go through for equal rights. It’s not only an educational watch, it’s also an entertaining one, as the film really is quite good.
- Big Stone Gap – Did this movie come out in theaters? I only vaguely remember it even appearing for a minute on any big screens. Which is kind of weird, when you consider that the cast boasts Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Krakowski, Anthony LaPaglia, and Jenna Elfman. Watching it, though, you can kind of see why it didn’t make any waves: it’s sort of like a really good Lifetime/Hallmark movie. Not that it’s a great film, but it’s like a Lifetime or Hallmark movie that snagged an amazing cast and upped its production values over the norm. But that does not a blockbuster make. Ultimately, though, this is a light, warm, fun little movie that’s neither great nor bad; it’s just what it is.
- Home Invasion – Natasha Henstridge and Jason Patric star (along with — ugh — B-movie king Scott Adkins) in this, well, this home invasion thriller. Equal parts The Panic Room and The Call, it’s a perfectly serviceable thriller that is better than a lot of direct-to-video fare these days. Henstridge is still a presence on screen, and while there isn’t a single thing here we haven’t seen before, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an easy way to kill 90 minutes.
- Freeheld – Julianne Moore and Ellen Page got a lot of buzz for their performances in this film, and it’s easy to see why: they’re both terrific. Add in Michael Shannon and Steve Carrell in supporting roles and you know you’re in for — at the very least — a well-acted film. Based on a true story, this film chronicles a gay New Jersey police officer’s fight against the bureaucracy to leave her pension to her domestic partner when she’s diagnosed with terminal cancer. It’s a moving film with an important message and great performances; definitely worth watching.
- Man Up – I really like both Simon Pegg (who doesn’t?) and Lake Bell, so I was surprised that I had never even heard of this film until the DVD/Blu-ray announcement came out. The shame of it is, Man Up is a really fun, enjoyable romantic comedy. Bell plays a woman who basically steals another woman’s blind date with Pegg, and the result is not too hard to see coming. But the film adds a few twists and turns, and it manages to be a rom-com with a lot more sarcasm and humor than a lot of the bland efforts that get churned out by studios these days. Why this film didn’t get a bigger release is beyond me, but it’s a lot of fun.
- Martyrs – The original French horror film Martyrs is a bona fide cult classic, so of course an American remake was inevitable. Now, in fairness, I haven’t seen the original, so I can’t compare the two, but I have to imagine it was better than this one. Pretty Little Liars‘ Troian Bellasario stars as a girl who was tortured as a child but escapes from the family that has her. Ten years later, she has a chance to exact her revenge… and then things get weird. I’m sure the original is so popular for a reason, but this one doesn’t give you any clue as to why.
- Zombie Fight Club – I’m still not entirely sure if I liked this film or hated it. On the one hand, it’s got some decent zombie action. And the idea of a literal zombie fight club, that’s kind of cool, right? On the other hand… a zombie fight club. Yeah. Zombie purists will hate this movie, while fans of Asian action cinema — especially the goofy, over-the-top kind — will probably like it. Me? I’m still not sure.
- A Ballerinas Tale – Misty Copeland made history when she became the first African-American principal dancer of the legendary American Ballet Theater. This documentary recounts her story and her life, from her childhood to her professional career and setbacks. While the quality of the filmmaking (repetitive footage, some less-than-stellar camerawork) doesn’t do the film any favors, it’s still a compelling story and will be of interest to anyone who likes ballet or who is interested in civil rights at large.
- LEGO Friends: Girlz 4 Life – Once again, the Lego animated brand caters to girls instead of boys with Lego Friends: Girlz 4 Life. My daughter loves these girl-themed Lego sets, and so this CGI-animated cartoon was a lot of fun for her to watch. Not as well-known as Chima or Ninjago, but growing in popularity, parents who have girls who also like Legos will definitely want to snag this. This is the third or fourth release in this line, and the stories are pretty similar in territory to the Barbie animated movies or the old Mary Kate & Ashley Olson live-action movies, so they’re fun enough and also pretty harmless.
- Noah’s Ark – David Threlfall and Willow’s Joanne Whalley star in this retelling of one of the world’s most famous stories. While this is ultimately a faith-based movie (and how could it not be, really?), it doesn’t beat you over the head with religion. Instead, it’s a pretty straightforward telling of the Noah/flood legend with slightly better production values than the usual made-for-TV fare.
- Hellions – Oooh, boy. This one comes from the director of the well-liked Pontypool, but those looking for anything like the quality of that film will be severely disappointed. Chloe Rose plays a teenager who finds out she’s pregnant, and then is haunted by evil children-demon things. Unfortunately, the film tries to play it all through atmosphere and weirdness, and the result is a pretty bad film. Even Robert Patrick, who I always enjoy seeing in a genre film, can’t help this one.
- Extraordinary Tales – Now this is an interesting one. This animated film adapts five famous Edgar Allen Poe short stories into a horror anthology: Even more impressive is the cast of narrators who read each story, which includes Sir Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, Julian Sands, Roger Corman and Guillermo del Toro. (Lugosi’s is taken from a 1940s radio broadcast.) The stories included are: The Tell-Tale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar and The Masque of the Red Death. The animation is interesting, and the short running time lends itself to keeping the pacing tight. Despite some flaws, I enjoyed this film overall.
- Take Me To The River – Terrence Howard hosts this exploration of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta on the American music scene, all the way from the very beginnings to the future of music. With participation from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Booker T. Jones, and other notable musicians, this is a pretty engaging music documentary, whether you’re a fan of the blues genre or not.
- Shimmer & Shine – My kids have grown out of most of the Nick Jr. shows, so I don’t really get to see any of them anymore, which means now there are starting to be series on the network that I’ve never even heard of. Shimmer and Shine is one of them. Turns out it’s a really cute little show about a girl named Leah who has two genies-in-training who try to help her out. With emphasis on the “in-training” part, things often go wrong. It’s a fun series that younger kids will definitely enjoy, and this DVD includes 7 episodes.
- Mercy Street – Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Josh Radnor, and Gary Cole are among the familiar faces in Mercy Street, PBS’s latest six-episode miniseries. Apparently meant to rival the UK’s smash success with Downton Abbey, this Civil War-era drama focuses on the people working at a hospital that used to be a luxury hotel. The show does the Downton thing well, focusing on multiple overlapping story lines, different groups of characters, and featuring sharp writing and a top-notch cast. While I don’t generally go for either Civil War stuff or medical shows, this one is pretty good.
- Meadowland – Not a biopic of the late Globetrotter (sadly), Meadowland instead is an intense drama starring Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson. The good news is that Wilde and Wilson both turn in excellent performances, perhaps two of their finest so far. The bad news is that this is a very hard movie to watch. It deals with the aftermath of the loss of a child, and the result is a bleak, dark film. It’s well made for sure, but you really have to be in the mood for something this heavy to enjoy it.
- The Sin Seer – Isaiah Washington and Lisa Arrindell Anderson stars in this new supernatural thriller about a young woman private detective who has the ability to see people’s lies, which of course leads to bad things happening when a murder case overlaps with her own past. It’s a solid thriller with a unique premise, and the supporting cast helps a lot. Look for familiar faces like C. Thomas Howell, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Gregory Alan Williams, and Michael Ironside
- Ladrones – This film is the sequel to Ladron Que Roba a Ladron, which apparently was a hit. In this one, two former thieves come out of retirement to play Robin Hood when a businesswoman starts taking advantage of local families and stealing the deeds to their land. Even though the film is in Spanish with subtitles, I can see why the franchise earned a sequel. It’s a fun heist film and the two leads are quite likable.
- All Hallows’ Eve 2 – Speaking of sequels, here’s one to a film you never even heard of in the first place. Why this is being released in February and not closer to October is a mystery to me, but it doesn’t matter; the film isn’t very good regardless. Basically a riff off of the VHS franchise, this anthology of short horror films is glued together by the premise of somebody receiving a strange VHS tape on their doorstep on Halloween. Unfortunately, the films aren’t very good so I wouldn’t waste too much time worrying about the premise or the film at all.
- The Rise of the Krays – Clearly timed to play on the release of the recent Tom Hardy film Legend (in which he plays both of the legendary Kray Brothers), this lower-bedget, less high profile biopic of the Kray Brothers isn’t bad, but it isn’t great, either. The acting (aside from the two leads) is a bit weak, and the film as a whole is just sort of mediocre. There’s a quote on the front cover that says this is, “The Best British Gangster Film Ever Made!” I can only assume that the reviewer in question either A) has never seen any other British gangster films or B) is the filmmaker’s mother.
- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Super Daniel – This latest installment of the popular PBS kids’ show features seven episodes of the popular series, with a superhero theme taking the forefront, of course. This DVD makes for a great treat for the kiddies, and at a nice, low price. Plus, what kid doesn’t want to see their favorite characters play at being superheroes?
- Uncaged – A surprisingly decent low-budget werewolf film, Uncaged actually benefits from starring unknown actors and coming from unknown filmmakers. My expectations for this one were pretty low, but I actually found the film somewhat enjoyable. Sure, some of the special effects moments are bit suspect, but overall the look of the film isn’t bad and the story is engaging enough to keep your interest. Werewolf fans should track this one down.