SPECTRE – I know a lot of people complained about SPECTRE, but for my money it was a perfectly enjoyable James Bond film. And actually, I loved the ending, once again grounding the series in a sense of reality and finality and feeling more like part of a saga and less like just a one-off film. I think the biggest problem with the film is simply that it came after Skyfall, which was one of the most brilliant James Bond films in the entire series. People were expecting Skyfall II, but the chances of that happening were pretty slim. Held on its own merits, SPECTRE has all the prerequisite action sequences, Bond girls, and over-the-top villains it needs to be a good time. I don’t know, I just don’t see what people didn’t like about it, and I’m a lifelong James Bond fan. Go into with normal expectations and I think you’ll like it just fine.
Crimson Peak – I’ve come to the conclusion that Guillermo del Toro is like the genre version of Woody Allen. He makes the films he wants to make, critics love them, he has a devoted fan base, and yet his movies never really make that much money. And — unlike Woody Allen — I don’t understand why del Toro’s films aren’t bigger hits. Crimson Peak is a terrific, gorgeous, layered classic ghost story that works on every level. It’s well written with strong characters, it’s visually stunning, and it’s nice and creepy. Sure, it’s more creepy than actually scary, but what’s wrong with that? It’s as much a character drama as it is a horror film, so I found the balance perfect. I really, really enjoyed this film, and I think it deserves a bigger audience.
The Leftovers: Season 2 – Apparently, there were problems with the first season of The Leftovers, so the show runners decided to revamp the second season and move a large number of the cast over to Texas for Season 2. It’s not completely rebooted (several of the main characters are still there), but it certainly doesn’t just pick up where season 1 left off. That said, my feelings on the show remain largely the same: I love it. The story is fairly simple: Two percent of the world’s population has disappeared. Was it aliens? God? Magic? Who knows, but that’s kind of beside the point of The Leftovers. While the premise makes the show sound like a genre series, it’s really less that than it is a conjecture on abandonment, loneliness, emotions, and doubt. This isn’t some X-Files rip-off “The truth is out there” show. Rather, it’s a “Will we ever know the truth? Probably not.” show. It’s filled with terrific performances, but I can see how it will turn off a lot of viewers. It’s a bit more like an art-house film in a weekly series format than a regular TV show. I think some people will love it, while others will just be left scratching their heads. Me? I can’t wait for Season 3.
From Dusk Till Dawn: Complete Season 2 – I enjoyed the first season of From Dusk Till Dawn, even though it was basically a ten-hour version of a two-hour movie. Since the show was a hit for the El Rey Network, of course the story had to go somewhere new to continue it, and so Season Two was born. This time around, we follow our crew of “heroes” in the aftermath of Season One, or the equivalent of the ending of the original film. The crew is scattered and paired off, with Santanico and Richie, Seth and Kate, and Carlos and Scott all starting off on their own sort of adventures. Of course, as the season continues, a big threat draws them all together. I’ve never felt like this is a perfect show, but I do enjoy it.
The 33 – It’s been a while since Antonio Banderas has had a lead role, so it was good to see him back in action in The 33, a film that certainly could have performed better than it did. Based on the true story of a group of 33 Chilean miners who spent an ungodly amount of time trapped beneath the surface of the earth, the film is a solid, at-times harrowing account of a story that captured the world’s attention. Even though we all know how the story ended (or most of us, anyway), this account gives us our first glimpse of what it was like for the miners, and it wasn’t fun. Banderas is terrific, and I think if the film had been marketed better, it could have been a medium-sized hit.
Black Mass – Another based-on-real-life film, Black Mass tells the story of New England’s most notorious mobster, Whitey Bulger. Johnny Depp leads an all-star cast and he’s an absolute dynamo here, inhabiting the role completely. Even though there is make-up involved to make him look like the aging Bulger, it’s nice to see Depp playing a regular human being again instead of a hatter or vampire or pirate or chocolate maker. I actually knew very little about Bulger, and even though I take all Hollywood biopics with a grain of salt, I found this story fascinating. Plus, with an ensemble that includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, and a ton of other recognizable faces, this is a film that should also have done much better at the box office.
MI-5 – I’m a huge fan of MI-5 (or Spooks, as its known in its native UK), the show which this movie is based on/continuing. While none of the main cast from the previous seasons is in the film, head stalwart Peter Firth does appear to tie the movie to the show. Firth was the only cast member to appear in all 10 seasons of the brilliant show, and his presence here is welcome. As for the film itself, it’s a bit ore showy/Hollywood-y than the intensely gripping yet understated TV show, but I’m such a huge fan that I’m excited just to have one more thing to watch. Hopefully it will garner some kind of audience so maybe we’ll see more films from the franchise in the future.
Also available on DVD & Blu-ray this week:
- Grandma – Lily Tomlin turns in a great performance in the title role of this new dramedy, where she’s basically given free reign to say whatever the hell she wants. Written and directed by Paul Weitz, the film is a darkly comic, harshly dramatic film about a heartbroken lesbian grandmother and her granddaughter tooling around trying to raise $600 for the granddaughter’s abortion. Along the way, they meet up with old friends, open old wounds, and generally wreak emotional havoc. The film is solid and Tomlin is terrific, but it’s definitely a film with a dearth of likable characters, which is something of a pet peeve of mine. Still, I can see how people will like it.
- The Lizzie Borden Chronicles: Season 1 – Christina Ricci portrays the infamous killer in this eight-part miniseries that fictionalizes the life of Lizzie Borden after her acquittal for the axe murders that made her a household name and real-life urban legend. It’s based on some fact, of course, but it takes what little is known about her life afterwards and expands it to include another set of murders and a mystery as to who killed them. It’s always good to see Ricci working again, and this series — while a bit long — is pretty interesting. Worth a look if you’re in the mood for a good drama/thriller show that you can easily binge-watch in a day.
- Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave – Currently available exclusively at Wal-Mart, Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave is the 976th entry in the Land Before Time animated franchise. However, it’s the first one in a few years, as these things were getting pumped out what seemed like monthly for a while there. By the end of the previous run, they were getting pretty lame, and really aimed squarely at the very young kids. This latest entry is a bit of a return to form for the series, despite the presence of four unnecessary songs. It also boasts Damon Wayans Jr. and Reba McEntire as guest voices. It’s a much better and more family-friendly effort than the last ten or so films in the series, so it’s worth tracking down if you have kids.
- Falling Skies: Season 5 – I wish I could say I was more sad than I am to see Falling Skies end, but I think it’s a good time to wrap it up. I’ve never been able to be the fan of this show I wanted to be. Part of me really likes it, and part of me thinks it’s a bit lacking. It’s kind of like, when I’m watching it, I enjoy it enough, but when I’m not watching it I don’t really miss it, nor do I feel a huge desire to track it down and watch it. Which is why the Blu-ray version of Falling Skies works so well for me. Watching it in this format — as opposed to the week-to-week TV way in which I don’t really engage anymore — lets it play out more like a movie. Even in its final season, it still has its flaws — clunky pacing, clunky dialogue… clunky special effects. Yes, you could describe the show as “clunky” — but it wraps up nicely and fans will enjoy this last season overall.
- Care Bears: Bearied Treasure – This latest one-hour adventure sees the popular ’80s mainstays’ resurgence continue. This CGI series isn’t the same as the ’80s cartoon or the more recent hand-drawn series, but it keeps the Care Bears spirit alive. In fact, I think kids today will enjoy it, because the CGI look of the cartoon keeps it feeling fresh and current, and the general messages of the Care Bears remain positive messages about friendship, sharing, caring, and the like. Although, this time around, you’ve got a pirate theme, which makes it even better.
- The Carol Burnett Show: Treasures from the Vault – This is what classic television is all about. I grew up watching this show, as I’m sure many of you did, whether in re-runs or when it originally aired. And you know what, it’s still funny. The great thing about The Carol Burnett Show is that the humor never focused exclusively on topical situations, so the comedy isn’t all that dated. Sure, some of the sketches aren’t surefire hits, but by and large, this is comedy at its best. This new 6-disc collection collects 15 uncut episodes from the first five seasons that have rarely been seen since. At this point, we’re basically just repackaging various episodes from the complete series box set that came out a few years ago, but in more budget-friendly chunks. That said, with over four hours of bonus features and guest stars including Jonathan Winters, Joan Rivers, and Mickey Rooney, it’s hard to argue with what a great package this is for fans of the show!
- Hee Haw: Kornfield Klassics – Another “classic” TV release from Time Life, Hee Haw: Kornfield Klassics is going a simpler route than the Carol Burnett releases, with each disc in the latest series containing two episodes. This latest disc of the countrified variety show features performances from Buck Owens, Roy Clark, Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Bill Anderson and a guest appearance by famed Yankees player Bobby Murcer. I’m not sure that this show has aged all that well, but I did watch it as a kid and I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some nostalgic enjoyment to be had here.
- Slash: Raised on the Sunset Strip – I’ve been a die-hard Guns N’ Roses fan since they first hit the airwaves in 1987, and even though they really haven’t done anything noteworthy since 1992 (sadly, I include Chinese Democracy and most of Slash’s Snakepit and Velvet Revolver in that category), my ears still perk up anytime anything GNR-related comes up. Slash has never been the most media-friendly member of the band, so getting to watch a whole documentary on him was pretty awesome for a fan like me. This film features interviews with notables such as Dave Grohl, Joe Perry, Duff McKagan, Alice Cooper, Matt Sorum, Nikki Sixx, and it really paints a pretty interesting picture of Slash’s entire career. A must-watch for fans of the top-hatted virtuoso.
- Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Pop Star Minnie – Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Pop Star Minnie is the latest collection of the hit kids’ cartoon. This one features five episodes of the popular show, with Minnie and her pop music taking the center stage. It also comes with a free inflatable pink guitar packed into the DVD case, which is a nice bonus treat. Always a great show for the little ones, this collection will make a lot of little faces smile.
- Labyrinth of Lies – Post-Holocaust dramas don’t exactly scream “popcorn movie viewing experience,” but Labyrinth of Lies is a worthwhile one nonetheless. Set in 1958 Germany, the film follows an idealistic German prosecutor who goes against the powers-that-be to bring the horrors of Auschwitz to light to an unsuspecting German people. It’s an engaging film, if a bit tough to watch at times, and also an important one. It shows how a government can keep its people in the dark and how a single crusading person can bring the truth to light. Worth a watch.
- The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: Season Two – This show is a favorite of mine from my youth. Sort of a weekly dose of James Bond (something I could never get enough of), the show focused on two intrepid secret agents: Napoleon Solo, the suave ladies man, and Illya Kuryakin, the cool yet dangerous uber-spy. The show might be considered a tad slow for an action-spy series by today’s standards, but lead actors Robert Vaughn and David Soul had enough charisma and chemistry to carry the show even in the dry moments. For my money, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is still highly enjoyable.
- Power Rangers: Time Force – The Complete Series – Full disclosure: while I have nothing against Power Rangers, I’m not a fan, either. I mean, it’s perfectly fine, I’m just not of the age that really ever watched this show. That said, as I’ve reviewed multiple seasons of the show by now, I can say that Time Force is one of the best seasons of the series there is. The classic Power Rangers series that started it all has started to become available on DVD, first in a massive box set, and now in individual seasons. The previous season, Lightspeed Rescue saw the show start to grow up a bit, and then Time Force really brought things to a new level. The season starts with a major character’s death, and then goes on to tackle topics like love, destiny, and bigotry. Whaaaat? Fans will be excited to have this one.
- Paolo Gioli: The Complete Filmworks – This new box set from RaroVideo brings us the complete works of experimental filmmaker Paolo Gioli. This Italian director is far from a household name in the US, but in the high-art cinema circles, he’s a known cineast, auteur, and trailblazer. Best known for surreal, non-story-driven short films, Gioli prefers to play with format and imagery rather than focusing on plot. Filled with dozens of short films on three discs and running almost 10 hours, this is a must-have for fans of the filmmaker or expressionist, abstract filmmaking in general.
- Elmo’s World: Elmo Wonders – Obviously aimed at the preschool set, Elmo’s World: Elmo Wonders is the latest collection of Elmo-centric Sesame Street Elmo’s World episodes. This themed collection sees Elmo wondering about how things work in the real world, so we get segments abut firefighters, weather, bicycles, and more. With two hours of content, it’s hard to find anything to fault about this collection for parents or kids.
- Sociopathia – This is one of those horror movies that will definitely have its fans, but I’m not one of them. The story of a psychopathic girl with a devastating fear of being lonely, she kills anyone she grows close to and dresses their corpses up like human sized dolls to keep them close to her, which is obviously a little disturbing. I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse horror films, but this one just wasn’t really my cup of tea, even if it is pretty solidly made.
- Playin’ For Love – Robert Townsend stars in (and directs) this by-the-numbers (and unnecessarily apostrophe-ed) rom-com about a basketball coach who falls for the mom of his star player. With a supporting cast that includes Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Esai Morales, Jenifer Lewis, and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, the films works because it doesn’t do anything new. We’ve seen this movie a thousand times, but it’s comfortable and enjoyable, and Townsend gives it some charm. It’s not great cinema by any means, but it’s enjoyable enough for what it is.
- Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet – A new animated film from one of the two directors of The Lion King, Roger Allers, The Prophet is based on a series of internationally best-selling books of poetry. Starring Liam Neeson, Salma Hayek, and Quvenzhané Wallis, this is a quiet but gorgeous little film that’s more allegory than plot. It looks great but I can’t say the story really engaged me all that much. Still, for something different than the usual pop-culture-reference laden over-the-top comedy fare the animated genre usually brings us, this fits the bill.
- Bad Boy, Anne of Green Gables, General Spanky – The Warner Archive brings us three new releases this week, all of which are print-on-demand and exclusive to their online store at www.WarnerArchive.com. General Spanky is the sole feature film outing from the popular Little Rascals, also featuring Alfalfa, Buckwheat and other favorites from the gang. Anne of Green Gables stars Anne Shirley in the title role of this 1934 version of the literature classic. As one of the lesser-seen, early Hollywood versions of this oft-adapted tale, this is a nice find for fans of the beloved tale. Finally, Bad Boy sees the film debut of Audie Murphy and is sort of a classic Hollywood tale of a bad boy and the people who try to keep him on the straight and narrow. Not Murphy’s best film, but a historically important one.
- Mountain Men: The Rules of the Wild Have Changed – Mountain Men is yet another in The History Channel’s line of wilderness-themed reality shows. This is a semi-interesting reality show about men who live off of nature, off the grid, and how they survive and thrive. The show then takes on a survival/entertainment vibe as we follow a few of these extreme bearded wonders and see what their lives are like. It’s entertaining enough for what it is and the show’s fans will be happy to have a new release.