The Peanuts Movie – Brilliant, charming, fun, endearing, sweet… the list of superlatives I could use to describe The Peanuts Movie goes on and on. This movie just gets everything right. It’s perfect for kids, but it manages to work in all the classic story elements that those of us who grew up reading the comic strip and watching the TV specials know and love. The animation is brilliant, using CGI but with a hand-drwn-styled twist on the faces that makes it feel brand new and classic at the same time. And it gives us Chrlie Brown in all his imperfect perfection: sweet, loyal, lovable loser that he is. In short, it’s everything I wanted a Peanuts movie to be. Kids and adults alike will love this one.
In the Heart of the Sea – I like Chris Hemsworth. I’m a huge Ron Howard fan. I love man vs. monster movies. So why did In The Heart of the Sea fail so utterly? I don’t even mean at the box office, even though it was a complete bomb there as well. No, I mean the film itself. I just didn’t like it very much, despite the fact that I really wanted to. I mean, ultimately it boiled down to a bunch of guys with largely indecipherable accents yelling in a boat for two hours. Sure, there’s a whale bit in there, but the film was really kind of… unexciting. It actually bordered on boring. This one was a huge let down for me.
Grease Live – Who doesn’t love Grease? And while Fox’s Live musical TV version of it won’t replace the John Travolta/Olivia Newton John version as the quintessential classic, it’s a damn good show. The cast is terrific, the musical numbers are spot on, the choreography and set design is excellent, and it feels like a fun reinterpretation of the show we all know and love, not a cheesy remake. I don’t know if it needed to run well over twqo hours or two add new songs, but by and large I had a lot of fun with it.
Community: The Complete Final Season – Remember when #SixSeasonsAndAMovie seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream? Well, we got six seasons of Community… so where’s the movie? Offbeat, snarky, satirical, and — most importantly — incredibly funny, all of last season’s episodes are now available for those of you who didn’t feel like navigating to Yahoo to watch the newest episodes. For those of you who want to be able to relive this season again and again, now you can, with some pretty cool bonus features along for the ride.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season One – I love watching Ellie Kemper. I always find her very funny, cute, charming, you name it. So I was pretty excited when she got her own show on Netflix. The fact that she was playing a young woman who’d been trapped in a survival shelter for 15 years had me even more excited because that’s an idea that’s rife with comedy potential. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt isn’t exactly a laugh riot, but it is an extremely fun show to watch. Kemper is terrific in the lead role, and the writing has moments of brilliance — even if the entire series can be a bit uneven at times. This one is worth checking out if you like quirky comedies.
Macbeth – Okay, I’m not a Shakespeare fan. But I am a Michael Fassbender fan. Which presented me with a dilemma. Do I watch MacBeth or not? Ultimately, I decided to dive in, and — ultimately — I’m glad I did. Fassbender is terrific in the title role, and Marion Cotillard is also excellent in the co-lead role. The film itself looks great as well. In fact, I’d have a completely rave review if it wasn’t for the fact that I still really don’t like Shakespeare. Anything that’s written in his native wordplay is still a slog for me. But if you’re a fan of the Bard’s, you’ll love this adaptation.
LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League – Cosmic Clash – The Lego franchise has become a force that has evolved beyond toys, and into video game and now movie culture. After a successful direct-to-video Lego Batman movie a couple of years ago, the Lego people have returned with the bigger and better (and unwieldingly-long titled) LEGO DC Super Heroes: Justice League – Cosmic Clash!, a full-length computer generated film that straddles the line between superhero action and comedy. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun! Even though kids are the target audience, the adults watching it will enjoy it greatly as well, thanks to some really sharp writing that isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at some of the superhero conventions we take for granted. On top of all that, the film’s production designs are fantastic; despite the Lego stylings, this is a truly gorgeous movie. This is really one for the whole family.
Species II, Species III & IV – Available in two separate releases, the Species sequels now all make their Blu-ray debut courtesy of Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint. Species II (which was a proper theatrical release) gets its own release, while Species III and IV (which both went direct to video) share a release. Honestly, none of them are actually all that bad. Species II is a pretty good sequel to a fun horror/sci-fi romp, while III and IV are basically the same movie, both shot on a lower budget and without Natasha Henstridge. None of these are classics, but it’s nice for fans of the Giger-inspired series to be able to own the whole thing in high def.
The Americans: Season 3 – Set in the ’80s, this show follows a married couple in suburban USA who are actually Russian sleeper agents. As it’s the height of the cold war, that obviously leads to some major intrigue on a weekly basis! As usual, Keri Russell is terrific, and Matthew Rhys is also excellent in the co-starring role. The show mixes drama, intrigue, suspense, and action, and it manages to feel familiar and fresh at the same time, which is pretty impressive. Plus, this set is out just in time for Season Three’s premiere on FX, which airs in about two weeks.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- The Spoils of Babylon Season 1 – I’ve long lamented the fact that television miniseries — the big, sweeping, epic kind that were so prevalent in the 70s and 80s — have all but disappeared from the television landscape. What better way to revive the format, then, than to create a parody of the art form that also IS the art form? This comedic melodrama stars Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig, Tim Robbins, Jessica Alba, Val Kilmer, Haley Joel Osment, Michael Sheen, and Will Ferrell, which makes this one worth watching for sure.
- Youth – Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda, Paul Dano, and Rachel Weisz star in this treatise on old age and… well, I don’t know what the hell else. This is kind of an odd film, filled with quirky characters and surreal dreamlike sequences. The performances are terrific but the film is a bit too odd for me, kind of like a movie Wes Anderson would make as an old man. Some people will probably love it, but I’m not one of them.
- Open Season: Scared Silly – The original Open Season film starred Ashton Kutcher and Martin Lawrence and was a kind of break-even film at the box office. It wasn’t a complete dud but it certainly wasn’t a big hit. But that hasn’t stopped Sony from turning it into a video franchise, this entry marking the third film in the series. Is it great? Not really. But it’s a lot better than some of the no-name foreign-animation-with-an-American-cast DVDs that come across my desk. The familiar characters and decent script mean that kids will love it and parents won’t be miserable if they’re forced to watch it.
- A Mighty Wind – The Christopher Guest classic about a folk music festival and the players it brings together makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of the Warner Archive (www.wbarchive.com). Kind of like a folk music version of Spinal Tap, the all-star comedy cast includes Eugene Levy (who also co-wrote the screenplay), Catherine O’Hara, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley, Jr., Jennifer Coolidge, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and Parker Posey.
- I Confess – Also from the Warner Archive (www.wbarchive.com), this Alfred Hitchcock B-lister stars Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, and Karl Malden. This potboiler features Clift as a priest who learns the culprit of a crime during confession but refuses to divulge the identity of the guilty party, even when suspicion swings on to himself. It’s a fun mystery romp, the type of film Hitchcock could put out in his sleep, but that doesn’t take anything away from what a great suspense film it is.
- The Decline of Western Civilization I and II – You’ve probably heard of the original The Decline of Western Civilization. I know I had. The seminal punk-rock version of Woodstock has had a legendary status in music and movie circles since its release in 1981. What you might not have realized (I didn’t) was that director Penelope Spheeris also made two follow up films. Last year all three films are came out in a box set; now, the first two volumes have been released on stand alone Blu-rayd for the first time. These concert/documentaries truly capture an age — an era, really — of music that we’ll likely never see again. Filled with performances by punk pioneers like The Germs, FEAR, X, Circle Jerks, and Black Flag, plus packed with interviews and footage of the scene as a whole, these are amazing movies whether you’re a fan of the musical genres or not.
- Manhattan: Season 2 – One of the biggest problems I run into with reviewing movies and TV shows is that I often watch part of a season of a new show and really like it, and then I have difficulty finding time to watch all of the shows that I fall in love with. I’m far behind on way too many shows for my liking, because I watch and enjoy so many. Fortunately (and unfortunately) for me, I won’t have that problem with Manhattan. A dramatic retelling of the creation of the A-bomb in World War II, the show has good production values and terrific performances, but man, is it boring. I just find this show terribly dull. I don’t care for many of the characters, and I just can’t get wrapped up in the drama. It’s too bad; I feel like the show has a lot of potential, but it’s just not one I’m going to be following.
- Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales – The next iteration in the Lego Star Wars series is out, and this time, it’s a series of episodes that aired on Disney XD. As with the previous Star Wars Lego mini-movies, these specials are out-and-out comedy. If goofy takes on the Star Wars universe make you cringe with fanboy dread, then these probably aren’t for you. If, however, you can appreciate a good parody once in a while, you’ll like these one a lot. There are a lot of in-jokes for Star Wars fans and a lot of broad hour for the kids. Plus, the animation and design of the Star Wars universe in Lego bricks are amazing. As long as they keep making these Lego Star Wars movies, I will keep watching them.
- Angry Birds: Stella – The Complete Second Season, Piggy Tales: The Complete Second Season, Angry Birds Toons: Season Two, Volume Two – These three releases are each a big collection of all the various Angry Birds short cartoons that are built into the games and found online. Sure you can watch them for free, but it’s nice to have them on DVD all in one place where your kids can watch them over and over again without having to steal your iPad.
- When Calls the Heart: It Begins With Heart – How many books has Janette Oke written? Because I can count at least a dozen TV movies based on them. In fact, I’m not sure why this series isn’t just a weekly show instead of a series of TV movies, as they come out so often. When Calls The Heart: It Begins With The Heart is the latest in the series, and it stars Erin Krakow, Lori Loughlin and Jack Wagner. I’ve said this before, but you don’t see a lot of romances where one of the main characters is a Canadian Mounty. Well, in this case you do. It’s pretty typical Hallmark fare, but I imagine the target audience will enjoy it.
- Coming Home – This Chinese film by Zhang Yimou is a drama that is pretty heavy. The story follows a man who comes home from prison to find a wife and daughter that don’t even know him. He plays a stranger to get close to them and try tp help heal the trauma that’s affected them. There’s a lot more to it than that, but it’s the kind of film that you’ll want to watch if you like solid, slow-moving but thoughtful character dramas.
- My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Friends Across Equestria – In the past, I’ve been hard on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I’m not a Brony, and I see this as largely a kids show. I don’t care if other adults like it, but it’s just not something I can geek out over. But by this point, I’ve watched the show a lot, as both my daughter and my son really enjoy it, and while I’m far from becoming a Brony, at least I can understand what my kids like about it. It’s humorous and smart, colorful and action-packed, and it doesn’t pander to its young audience. I’m not saying I’m a superfan, but I at least get what the kids see in it.
- The Tribe – This is a fascinating film out of Ukraine that was made starring all deaf non-actors, who perform the film using sign-language. It definitely qualifies as an art house film, but it’s also something of a thriller, as the story follows a boy at a school for the deaf who tries to usurp the school’s hierarchy, which is pretty set in stone. I don’t know that I could say that I loved this film, but it was unique and intriguing, and worth checking out if you’re into experimental filmmaking.
- Jane B. Par Agnes V. / Kung Fu Master – Speeeeaking of art-house films, this double feature of films by director Agnes Varda and starring Jane Birkin. Kung Fu Master is not a martial arts film, but rather a story about a forty something-year-old woman falling in ove with a 14-year-old boy. It’s not as creepy as it sounds, and there’s a definite sense that the film is more about recapturing youth than illicit love. As for Jane B. Par Agnes V., it’s a sort of meta inspection of fame and filmmaking, couched in a format that is anything but traditional. This isn’t really my kind of filmmaking, but it’s a nice double feature for fans of the director and star.
- Littlest Pet Shop: Pet Tales – When you have kids, all you want out of a children’s show is for your kids to like it and for it to not be super annoying like Barney is. Honestly, that’s about it. If something occasionally comes along that happens to be darn near brilliant (like Phineas and Ferb, for example), well that’s just a bonus. My daughter loves the Littlest Pet Shop toys, so she enjoys the cartoon. It’s as simple as that. It fits right alongside similar cartoons like My Little Pony and La La Loopsy, so if you’ve seen those, you know what to expect here. Kids will love it, parents will ignore it, simple as that.
- Yu-Gi-Oh GX: Season 3 – Okay, so if phrases like “the Duel Monsters card game” and “three legendary duelists who will do whatever it takes,” mean anything to you, then you probably want to pick up the six-disc Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Season Two Box Set. You know, for the kids. Riiiight… for the kids. You know who you are. This collection includes a whopping 52 episodes.
- Peppa Pig: The Golden Boots – The popular British pig family returns in the Springtime-themed Peppa Pig: The Golden Boots. Not my favorite kids show, but good enough for the younger ones. It’s cute enough to be endearing, I guess. This latest collection includes nine episodes plus an extra 15-minute special episode, so you get a lot of bang for your buck.
- Beyond Beyond – So, the headlining voice actor in this animated film is “Evan from EvanTubeHD.” I have no idea who that is. I assume he’s a YouTube “star” or something like that. More importantly, other voice cast members include Jon Heder, Cary Elwes, Patrick Warburton, and Emily Deschanel. And while it’s perfectly geared for Easter, this isn’t really an Easter movie, but kids will like it nonetheless.