The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – The first part of Mockingjay was a bit of a stumble after the superb Catching Fire, which remains the strongest entry in the series. The main problem was that it was the first part of a two-film story that didn’t need to be two films. As a result, the pacing was way off. Gone was the urgency of the first two films, and instead the movie felt bloated, which was something this franchise had never had to deal with before. This second installment regains some of that urgency and gives us a somewhat satisfying end to the series. Of course, the main problem is that Mockingjay as a book wasn’t very good, so it’s hard to fix the problems of it in a movie. There are some changes that I like, and some of the action sequences are pretty exciting, but ultimately, I feel like this is a film series that has run its course just in time to end naturally.
The Hunger Games: The Complete Collection – Also available this week is a nice box set that collects all four films into one convenient collection, including Mockingjay, Part 2. I feel like Lionsgate should have maybe held off on this until Christmas time, as most people will probably just want to watch the fourth film for right now. Still, this box set does include all four films plus dozens of hours of extra features; it’s pretty much everything a fan of the series could ask for.
Daddy’s Home – Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg star in this comedy that was the surprise hit of the holiday season. I’m not sure why, exactly; their last film together — 2010’s The Other Guys — was a huge hit and extremely funny. But this one got very little marketing and was up against Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and yet somehow managed to quietly pull in $150 million at the box office. And while it’s not the slam dunk that The Other Guys was, the fact is that Ferrell and Wahlberg make a good comedy team. The film has some good laughs and some good chuckles, but it’s wryly enjoyable from start to finish. It won’t finish the year on anyone’s Top 10 list, but for a good way to kill a couple of hours, you could do a lot worse.
Brooklyn – Saiorse Ronan and Domnhall Gleason star in this 1950s coming-of-age/immigration tale that is wonderfully acted and quite charming on its own merits. I liked Brooklyn because it’s a more old-fashioned kind of storytelling. The plot self is simple: a young Irish immigrant in 1950s Brooklyn finds herself torn between two countries and two men. It’s a coming of age tale, a romance, a drama, a character study; but it has a lot of ingredients that make it work. The actors are great, the characters are fully realized, and the film has a warmth and charm to it that is endearing.
Freaks And Geeks: The Complete Series – I would love to say I’ve been a fan of Freaks and Geeks since the very beginning, but I’d be lying. In fact, I’m probably more one of the reasons the show got canceled. For even though I was the very target audience for this show (as someone who was definitely a geek in high school), I never once tuned in. Yep, you can blame its low ratings on me. In fact I didn’t watch the show until it came out on DVD several years ago, at which point I realized I’d been missing out. Even then, I only saw a handful of episodes. Now that I’ve been able to sit and take in the entire series on Blu-ray, I do enjoy it quite a bit. I would say it’s a shame it didn’t go on longer, but look at all the comedy stars it launched after its cancellation: Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, John Francis Daley, Linda Cardellini, Samm Levine… where would they all be if this show had continued on? This new box set from Shout Factory gives us every single episode of the show plus a ton of bonus features, making it the ultimate release for Freaks and Geeks fans.
Fear the Walking Dead: Season One – Special Edition – Just in time for the launch of the second season, AMC gives us a revised and revamped collection of the first season of Fear the Walking Dead, now with even more bonus features and extra goodies. Personally, I would not want to be Fear the Walking Dead. I mean, after five seasons of The Walking Dead being the most popular show in the world, the pressure to live up to unreal expectations must have been insane. Admittedly, I was somewhat disappointed with it, although ultimately I do like the show. I think my biggest problem with it is the fact that so many of the characters are whiny, annoying, or stupid that I WANT them to get eaten by walkers. I can count on one finger the number of characters who didn’t annoy me throughout the entire season and that’s a problem. But even over the course of just six episodes, the series improves from show to show, and I thought the end got pretty good. So there is hope for this show in the future. Just don’t compare it to The Walking Dead.
Turn: Washington’s Spies Season 2 – I had next to no interest in watching this show when I first saw promos for it. A bunch of soldiers in wigs and British redcoats and spies probably sounds pretty exciting to some people, but I thought it looked dreadfully dull. It turns out that that isn’t the case, as Turn is quite an engrossing drama. I was really hooked from the first season and it hasn’t let up from there. Jamie Bell is utterly fantastic in the lead role, while the supporting cast of almost entirely unknowns is also great. What makes the show work is that there are no uninteresting characters. Everyone from the simple farmer turned spy to the evil British sergeant to the local magistrate to the rebel commander are all well-drawn, equally brushed out characters, and thats what makes the show spark. Check this one out if you haven’t already.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
The Royals: Season Two – Elizabeth Hurley returns to television with the second season of E! Entertainment Television’s first scripted show, The Royals. I thought the show looked interesting originally but when I found out it was from the creator of One Tree Hill, I knew I had to check it out. And it’s everything you’d want it to be: soapy, melodramatic, over-the-top, and addictive, in all the right ways. If you’re a One Tree Hill fan and have been missing that show, you definitely need to watch The Royals.
Disturbing Behavior – James Marsden and Katie Holmes (at least much younger versions of themselves) star in this late 90’s pseudo-horror thriller that followed in the wake of the success of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. More of a psychological thriller than an outright horror film, the movie follows a school in the pacific northwest where the high school rebels are slowly turning into upstanding citizens. It’s a little bit like a grunge version of The Stepford Wives. I was mostly interested in watching it again because it was one of the few feature films ever directed by David Nutter, who’s one of the great TV directors of all time. I wish I could say I had a revelation watching it again, but it remains a solid if unexciting entry into a crowded genre.
Perry Mason Movie Collection: Volume Five – Some three decades or so after the original Perry Mason show came to an end, everyone’s favorite defense attorney returned to TV with a series of hit movies. This fifth volume collection includes the final six of those movies, which saw Raymond Burr reteam with original cast member Barbara Hale. The last four films in the series didn’t feature Raymond Burr, but instead Hal Holbrook and Paul Sorvino, which is certainly an oddity. Most die-hard Perry Mason fans won’t be as interested in these last four, but the completists will be happy to have them. The movies included are: The Case of the Telltale Talk Show Host, The Case of the Killer Kiss, The Case of the Wicked Wives, The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle, The Case of the Grimacing Governor, and The Case of the Jealous Jokester.
The Letters: The Untold Story of Mother Theresa – Juliet Stevenson, Max Von Sydow, and Rutger Hauer star in this biopic of Mother Theresa, which tells her story largely through the use of several ostensibly real-life letters written by Mother Theresa. Now, I’m not a religious sort so I’m definitely not the target audience for this film, which uses mostly TV-movie-style filmmaking to tell a story that most people in its demographic will probably not be critical of. That’s a good thing, because the film is bland and uninspired, and I think only the most devout devotees of the Catholic faith will get any enjoyment from the film.
Midwinter of the Spirit – This British TV series is a mix of supernatural drama, mystery, character study, and horror and the result is decidedly distinct. The show follows a young female “deliverance minister” for the Church of England — or in other words, an exorcist. Rocked by family trauma, and full of self-doubt, she’s pulled into a murder investigation which sees possible supernatural forces at work against her. It’s an intense show with some great performances, and while it didn’t completely blow me away, I did find it intriguing and enjoyable overall.
Maude: Season Four – A spin-off of All in the Family (and created by the legendary Norman Lear, as was AITF), Maude was a showcase for the singular talents of Bea Arthur, who was absolutely brilliant in the lead role as a brash, opinionated, intelligent woman who was never afraid to call things the way she saw them. With a supporting cast that included Bill Macy, Adrienne Barbeau, Conrad Bain and Rue McClanahan and tons of great guest stars this season collection is a treasure trove of comedy greatness.
American Experience: The Perfect Crime – I love true crime, and this was a particularly welcome DVD to watch. Focusing on the infamous Leopold & Loeb murder at the turn of the century, The Perfect Crime is a fascinating look at one of the early century’s most notorious crimes. And while I had certainly heard of the murder, the facts of the case were actually something I was pretty unfamiliar with. This hour-long special takes us through the crime, the trial, and the notoriety, and it’s quite fascinating. Fans of Serial and Making a Murderer will love this.
George O’Brien Western Collection – The movies in this set were made between 1938 and 1940, which means that George O’Brien is a bit before my time. As such, I wasn’t really familiar with the actor when I sat down to watch these films. This new three-disc, nine-movie set exclusively from the Warner Archive (www.warnerarchive.com) is a nice primer into the O’Brien western catalog. It includes the following films: Lawless Valley, Arizona Legion, Trouble in Sundown, Racketeers of the Range, Timber Stampede, The Fighting Gringo, Bullet Code, Prairie Law, and Stage to Chino.