Krampus – I know it’s a Christmas movie that’s being released in April, but it doesn’t matter. Krampus is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a long time. While it was billed as a horror comedy film, it leans a bit more on the horror than the comedy, but it does have some clever moments and a few good laughs. But it just does what it’s supposed to really well. It builds characters, throws everything to hell, and then starts picking people off one by one. The creatures look fantastic, the kills are original, and the movie is just fun from start to finish. Plus, it has one of the best horror movie endings I’ve seen in years. I’m glad Krampus was a medium-sized hit at the box office, because it’s a really great film. If you missed it in theaters, check it out now.
Ride Along 2 – I really hated the first Ride Along. I found it unfunny, annoying, loud, and obnoxious. So my expectations for Ride Along 2 were about as low as possible. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it more than the first one. It’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but I found it at least watchable. I thin the addition of Ken Jeong and Olivia Munn broke up the non-stop bickering between Ice Cube and Kevin Hart that made the first one so unbearable. I’m not saying you’ll love this film if you hated the first one like I did, but it was certainly better than I expected it to be, and if you did enjoy the first one, I see no reason why you won’t like this one.
Death Becomes Her – Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn, and Bruce Willis star in this black comedy about eternal life, vanity, and romantic rivalry. I had forgotten that is was directed by Robert Zemeckis when I sat down to watch this, and then I realized that I’ve never actually seen the film before. It’s a pretty fantastic satire of Hollywood while at the same time skewering the ideals of youth and beauty. The script works really well, and the movie manages to fit in some subversive subtext while also going for over-the-top physical gags. Plus, with Streep, Willis, and Hawn in the cast you know you’re in for a good time.
Brief Encounter – David Lean is most mown for directing Lawrence of Arabia, but one of his other most notable films is the 1945 classic Brief Encounter. Quiet, simple, and beautiful, the film follows two married people who meet in a train station, become friends, and quickly fall in love. But rather than being a movie about a torrid affair, this film focuses on the emotional and pragmatic realities of two married people attempting to begin an affair. Is it worth it? Can they betray their families? What kind of future do they have? It’s a terrific movie, and while it’s much smaller than Lawrence of Arabia, it’s no less effective. This new Criterion Collection Blu-ray features restored and remastered picture and sound as well as a bevy of extra features.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- Cary Grant: The Vault Collection – This new box set includes no less than EIGHTEEN Cary Grant films, and rather than focusing on all the films you’ve already got in your collection, it features some of his lesser known works, including FIVE films that have never been released on home video before. That’s pretty awesome! Here are the movies included: Thirty Day Princess; Kiss and Make Up; Ladies Should Listen; Enter Madam; She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel with Mae West; Devil and the Deep with Tallulah Bankhead; Wings in the Dark with Myrna Loy; The Last Outpost; Madame Butterfly; The Woman Accused; Hot Saturday; The Eagle and the Hawk; Big Brown Eyes; Wedding Present; This is the Night; Blonde Venus; and Gambling Ship.
- Sssssss – Shout Factory’s horror imprint Scream Factory brings us this forgotten classic of 1970s horror starring Dirk Benedict and… Strother Martin? I expected this just to be a typical 70s horror flick about snakes overrunning a small town or something like that, but its much more involved than that. This one involves a mad scientist turning a man into a giant snake, and it brings with it all the cheesiness that implies.
- Jane Got A Gun – Natalie Portman in a direct-to-DVD western? Ummm… okay, what not? But while the plot is a fairly by-the-numbers western outing, it’s the cast that makes it shine. Alongside Portman, you get Ewan McGregor, Joel Edgerton, and Noah Emmerich. The result is a film that isn’t stupendous, but is worth watching for a diverting 90 minutes.
- The Driftless Area – An all-star cast populates this supernatural drama/romance/mystery. Anton Yelchin and Zooey Deschanel take the lead roles, but Frank Langella, Aubrey Plaza, John Hawkes, and Alia Shawkat all show up in meaningful roles as well. I didn’t really know what to expect from this film, but the trailer had me intrigued so I thought I’d give it a chance. It’s one of those movies that isn’t a slam dunk out of the gate, but it’s a slow-burning film that had me caught up in it buy the end. Obviously, the strong performances were a big draw, but there’s something about the film I just liked. Worth a look if you want something a little bit different.
- Son of Saul – This Oscar Winner for Best Foreign Film is powerful, moving stuff. It’s also incredibly dark. The story of Jewish prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp (who are forced to cooperate with the Nazis) and the religious ceremony they attempt to perform is not for people who are looking for a light watching experience. That said, the performances are terrific, the direction is excellent, and the film is extremely powerful.
- Backtrack – Adrien Brody and Sam Neill star in this supernatural thriller about a man who blames himself for the death of his young daughter. When he finds himself back home after a long absence, well… he sees dead people. It’s a horror film at its core but it has enough drama and pathos in it to rise above just being a shock-thriller. Brody turns in a typically excellent performance, showing that he takes all of his material seriously even if it is a horror film (where some actors turn in sub-par work.) This one is worth checking out if you’re a horror fan.
- Standoff – The story in Standoff is a pretty familiar one: An assassin (Laurence Fishburne) is out to kill a little girl who witnessed his last hit. The only thing between him and her? Thomas Jane’s grizzled ex-soldier with a shotgun and a single shell. What makes it rise above the million other films that follow this exact same plot is a nice cat-and-mouse energy between Jane and Fishburne, and also the performance by young Ella Ballantine who’s pretty good for a child actor. Not great, but certainly not bad, this is a pretty solid suspense film.
- The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official First Season – The Beverly Hillbillies is not great television, but I do have a soft spot for it. When I was a kid, after morning cartoons were on, the local affiliates all played 1950s-1970s television. So I grew up on a healthy diet of The Beverly Hillbillies, CHiPs, Leave it to Beaver, Green Acres, Gomer Pyle, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and so many others I can’t even remember them all. The adventures of Jed and Granny and Mr. Drysdale and Ms. Hathaway are old hat to me. Granted, I haven’t actually watched the show in probably 20 years or so, but I can still appreciate it on some level. It’s all a bit silly and dated now, but I can see why I enjoyed it as a kid. Apparently, there have been several semi-official Beverly Hillbillies DVD releases, ranging from special episodes to best-of collections, but most of them have come from small independent companies that don’t offer much in terms of content or quality. Paramount is making sure that fans know these are the real deal, though, by titling this season set as The Official First Season.
- Forbidden Hollywood: Volume 10 – Apparently, this is the final release in Warner Brothers pre-code collection series (available exclusively through warnerarchive.com), which is a shame, because I love this series. Maybe Warner just ran out of movie sot include? Either way, this five-film set includes the following pre-Code gems: Guilty Hands, starring Kay Francis; The Mouthpiece, starring William Warren; Secrets of the French Police; The Match King, also starring William Warren; and Ever in My Heart, with Barbra Stanwyck, Ralph Bellamy, and Otto Preminger. The Mouthpiece might be the most well-known of the films and it’s probably the best in the set, but I also enjoyed Ever in My Heart quite a bit. Guilty Hands is also a pretty solid entry. The other two films are relatively forgettable, but it’s still nice to have them in the set.
- Dangerous Men – If ever there was a film that the term “Cult Cinema” was coined for, it would be Dangerous Men. Started by Iranian filmmaker John Rad in 1979, it took 26 years to complete, and it’s the most bizarre, over-the-top, ridiculous, so-bad-its-good film I’ve ever seen. Luckily, the home video release is aware of the fact that it’s a complete oddball, and this Blu-ray release comes with some great extra features that explore the film beyond just being promo fluff. I can’t say this is a good film per se, but boy, is it worth watching if you love cult cinema.
- Wabbit: Season 1, Part 1 – Ummm… okay. This is an odd one for me. On the one hand, this updated version of Looney Tunes (set squarely in the modern day) is very different from the Bugs Bunny cartoons we’re all used to. On the other hand, I try not to be a grumpy old man. So, do I love new characters Squeak the Squirrel and Bigfoot? Not really? But am I the young kid this show is aimed at? No. I think kids will like this show, just like they enjoy the revamped Mickey Mouse shorts that have been a big hit on the Disney Channel. It’s not quite my cup of tea yet, but I can accept that.
- 19-2: Season 1 – A Canadian series about a police precinct (and two partners in particular) in Montreal Canada, 19-2 is exceptional television. It’s not entirely different from something like Chicago Fire (except obviously about cops and not firemen) in that it focuses more on the lives and loves of the policemen and women than just on the crimes, but that’s a good thing in my opinion. It’s more soap opera and less Law & Order, but not in a way that leaves you wincing. There’s still a good amount of police action, it just never overshadows what’s going on in the lives of the characters. Great stuff for someone looking for a new show to binge watch.
- Hot in Cleveland: Season 6 – Hot In Cleveland focuses on three L.A.-based best friends of a fortysomething-ish persuasion (played by Wendie Malick, Valerie Bertinelli, and Jane Leeves) transplanted to Cleveland from the fabulous land of Hollywood; a world in which they’re considered hot, fashionable, and in-demand with the menfolk. It’s not a high concept show, and it actually owes a lot to Betty White’s other hit sitcom, The Golden Girls, but that’s not a bad thing; if you remember, Golden Girls was a fantastic show. And interestingly, even though I’m not the target demographic for the show, it’s actually pretty funny. With a great cast, some solid writing, and Betty White doing what she does best, Hot in Cleveland is a funny, light and enjoyable show. Sure, it’s frothy entertainment, but I’ll be honest, that’s usually exactly what I’m looking for from my sitcoms.
- 10 Items or Less: The Complete Series – 10 Items or Less was a sitcom that ran from 2006-2009, with relatively short seasons. It wasn’t a huge hit, but it has a devoted fan base. Read anything about the show and you’ll almost automatically see comparisons to The Office, and there’s a good reason for that: it’s pretty much The Office, just set in a supermarket. Having sat through the entire series, I can say that while I’m not ready to profess my undying love for it, I certainly did enjoy it. Plus, seeing as how the third season was never previously released in the US and that this is a bargain-priced set, it’s hard to complain about it at all.
- The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour: Country Special – This 90-minute collection of episodes from Glen Campbell’s show all feature a country music theme, obviously. While some of the guest stars are long forgotten (at least by me), you do see some familiar faces such as Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Jerry Reed and more. This one’s a nice throwback for fans of Campbell.
- Johnny Winter With Dr. John: Live In Sweden 1987 – Okay, I have to admit that I’m not a fan of Johnny Winter or Dr. John. It’s not that I dislike either of them, I just honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard a single piece of music by either of them. So watching this concert, I’m not really a great judge of how good or bad it is, but I can tell fans that the show runs an hour and sounded pretty good to me; the sound quality and camera work are pretty good and the song choice seems varied.
- Doomsday: 3 Catastrophic Mini-Series – I love love LOVE disaster movies. No joke, I’m a disaster movie junkie. Now, unfortunately, a lot of times the networks think disaster movies need to be miniseries and a lot of times that results in bloated, overly-long affairs. These three three-hour miniseries are all pretty solid but all of them would have probably been better at the two hour mark. Blackout stars Sean Patrick Flanery Anne Heche, James Brolin, and Eriq La Salle, and deals with, well, a blackout, albeit one that leads to chaos in California. Meteor… okay, it’s obviously about a meteor, but it stars Billy Campbell, Michael Rooker, Christopher Lloyd, Stacy Keach, and Jason Alexander. Finally, Pandemic stars Tiffani Thiessen, Eric Roberts and Faye Dunaway. I enjoyed all three of them, and the fact that you can get this collection for under 10 bucks is pretty awesome.
- Bloody Wednesday – Sometimes it’s easy to find good things to say about films you don’t like. Sometimes it’s not. Bloody Wednesday is… well… interesting. Loosely based on a real-life shooting massacre in a McDonalds, this film follows a man’s descent not madness. It’s hard to tell what parts of the film are real or imagined, and I have to say this movie really wasn’t for me. However, if you like horror films that are a bit more esoteric and bizarre, you might give this one a shot.
- Prefontaine – Jared Leto (at the time mostly known still for My So-Called Life) stars as runner Steve Prefontaine in one of the two biopics of the athlete that came out in 1997. It’s fun to see Leto turn in an excellent performance years before he would go on to win an Oscar for his role in Dallas Buyer’s Club, and the movie is a good biopic about a guy I know next-to-nothing about. Available now on Blu-ray and at a bargain price, this one is a good pick-up if you get the chance.
- Caillou: Caillou’s Pet Parade – This is the latest DVD release of the popular cartoon, with a good handful of episodes. This show is kind of your basic kids’ show. A young boy has adventures in parks and playgrounds and such, and learns lessons about everything from friendship and helping to winning and losing. It’s pretty typical kids fare for the younger set, but that’s not a bad thing. Plus, the low price point is a bonus looking for kids’ entertainment.
- WB Archives – Warner Brothers has nine new films out exclusively through their print-on-demand service, The Warner Archive (www.warnerarchive.com). my favorite from the group is Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood, which is a fascinating and moving documentary about the large number of now-legendary German directors who emigrated from Germany to Hollywood in the dawning years of Nazi Germany. Filled with clips from classic films and telling a truly extraordinary story, this one is worth seeking out for any cinephile. The Seventh Sin is an adaptation of Somerset Vaughn’s The Painted Veil, and it stars Eleanor Parker and Jean-Pierre Aumont. I didn’t love this melodrama, but it is a classic tale that people will want to see. Valley of the Kings, on the there hand, is a lot of fun. Starring Robert Taylor as an archaeologist who’s something of a prototypical Indiana Jones type character, this is classic Hollywood adventure that’s a lot of fun. The Man and the Moment is a rare Billy Dove film from the dawn of sound, and while it’s not a great film on its own, it is a fascinating piece of history for students of classic Hollywood cinema. The Woman in White stars Eleanor Parker and Sydney Greenstreet. It’s an intriguing mystery story that starts off a bit slow but becomes more interesting as it goes. The Blade is a kick-ass Asian martial arts action epic that sees acclaimed director Tsui Hark remake a Shaw Brothers classic film called One-Armed Swordsman. It’s fast, furious, and fun, and is a must-see for any action cinema junkies. A Terra-Cotta Warrior is a fantastic Asian film starring Zhang Yimou (who also directs) and actress Gong Li. It’s a big budget fantasy about an ancient warrior transformed into a terra cotta statue for 3000 years and then revived, but rather than being an all-out action film, it has romance at its core. It’s a really cool film. A Fine Pair is a fun heist film starring Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale and featuring a score by Ennio Morricone. It’s lighthearted and frothy, but it’s also slick and cool, and it has a fun ’60s vibe to it. Finally, Brotherly Love stars Peter O’Toole and Susannah York and is a very dark film about a brother whose love for his sister goes a bit beyond just sibling affection. Yep. That’s creepy. It’s a good film, though, if a bit disturbing.