Out This Week: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Expanse, Mojave, & More!

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens – What else is there left to say about Star Wars: The Force Awakens? I mean, I can’t imagine you haven’t seen it by now and if you haven’t, I can’t imagine you’re that big of a Star Wars fan. So let’s focus on what you get if you buy the film on Blu-ray, which I hope most people will do rather than watching it on DVD. There’s a nice hour-long documentary about the making of the film that is lots of fun to watch, even if it is a bit pre-packaged and overly polished. There are six deleted scenes which aren’t as exciting as you might hope, but they’re still pretty neat. There are also a half-dozen or so featurettes that all come in just shy of the ten-minute mark, giving you another hour of making-of material. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but if you can’t get enough of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which I can’t!), this is a nice collection of new stuff to help hold you over until Episode VIII. Oh yeah, and for the record? I absolutely LOVE Star Wars: the Force Awakens. It’s utterly magical.

Expanse1The Expanse: Season 1 – I’ve heard so many good things about The Expanse, so I was pretty surprised when the first episode of the show left me a little cold. I was expecting to be blown away by it, but this isn’t the kind of show that blows you away right from the get go. It’s a slow-burning sci-fi potboiler that gets more and more interesting as it goes. It’s layered and complex, and you get the impression that SyFy is trying hard to find their next Battlestar Galactica, which isn’t a bad thing. I just don’t know if I’m as impressed by the show as everybody else seems to be.

MojaveMojave – It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Oscar Isaac. I think he’s one of the single best actors working today, and I’ve loved him in every role he’s been in. Garrett Hedlund is the odd actor that can turn in some really awful performances (see: Pan — or rather, don’t.), but can also be pretty good, and I do like him for some reason. Maybe because I have a soft spot for Tron: Legacy. Regardless, the pair of them match up well on screen and Isaac doesn’t just completely overpower Hedlund like I thought he would. With Mark Wahlberg and Walton Goggins in supporting roles, this is actually a pretty good little flick.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • Tumbledown – This is one of those movies that doesn’t really break any new ground, but is completely enjoyable nonetheless. Jason Sudeikis stars as a journalist who wants to immortalize Rebecca Hall’s late folk-musician husband. As the pair start to work on their memories of him… well, you can probably figure it out. But the film never feels cliched or boring, and there’s an excellent supporting cast that includes Blythe Danner, Richard Masur, Joe Manganiello, and Dianna Agron. This is a charming little film that’s worth a look.
  • The Hallow – I give The Hallow credit for doing something different, even if it’s not 100% successful. Made and set in Ireland, the film is a supernatural horror film that deals with things like banshees and fairies, but not the cute Disney kind. Unfortunately, after that, it’s a fairly standard horror flick with some good moments, and some not so good. I’ll say this, though, for a horror film you’ve never heard of, it’s definitely better than some other ones I’ve seen.
  • #Horror – Speaking of horror films, #Horror stars Chloe Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, Taryn Manning and Timothy Hutton, which gives it a leg up over a lot of similar genre films for at least having some solid performances. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as this is more of a psychological thriller art house film than a horror film. The plot is a lot less linear than the story synopsis would have you believe, and I wish I could say I liked the film more, but it didn’t really do all that much for me.
  • Riot: Caged to Kill – Dolph Lundgren and Chuck Liddell co-star in this revenge-field action flick that went direct-to-video, and deservedly so. I don’t say that to be mean and it’s not even a bad film, but it was clearly made on a limited budget and never really rises above direct-to-video fare. That said, the film doesn’t skimp on the action — which is nice — and there are some pretty brutal fight scenes. If you love Dolph like I do or just want a mindless brawler you can kill 90 minutes with, there are much worse films than this.
  • Michael Collins – Liam Neeson plays the famed Irish revolutionary in this biopic that is somehow just making its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Warner Bros’ print-on-demand service, the Warner Archive (www.warnerarchive.com). I honestly knew nothing at all about Collins, the inspirational early 20th century leader of the Irish Republican Army. This film tells his story in a powerful and engaging way, with a supporting cast that includes Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Alan Rickman and Julia Roberts. I’m glad Warner released this on Blu, too, because it’s a film that deserves to be seen in high definition.
  • The (New) Odd Couple: Season 1 – Matthw Perry and Thomas Lennon: two comedic television actors that I really enjoy, both of whom seem to have a hard time finding a vehicle for them that will stick. So you would think that teaming the two together in a new sitcom would be a slam dunk, right? Well, not exactly. The show’s not bad; it’s enjoyable even. But is it as funny as I wanted a show starring Perry and Lennon to be? No. But it has been renewed for another season, so I’m hopeful that with almost a whole year to work on it between seasons, the new season will see some improvements and live up to its potential.
  • Banshee: Season 3 – It didn’t take long for me to get completely sucked in to the world of Banshee. There are almost no recognizable faces in the cast, except for Frankie Faison and Ivana Milesevic, but everyone in the cast is terrific, especially Antony Starr in the lead role and Ulrich Thomsen as the town bad guy. The show looks terrific; the production values here are exceptionally high. It often looks look more like a feature film than a TV show. Banshee didn’t get a ton of buzz during its first two seasons (probably because it aired on Cinemax, which hasn’t gotten a name for original dramas just yet), but it should have. Banshee is a bit of a sleeper hit. I’d bet a lot of people haven’t even heard of it, but it’s a very addictive, enjoyable show.
  • Episodes: Season 4 – The hit Showtime series returns to DVD with Episodes: The Fourth Season, and Matt LeBlanc returns to television with it. This comedy series, which focuses on a British writing duo who are gobsmacked by Hollywood when Matt LeBlanc gets cast in the US remake of their highbrow comedy, is at its funniest when LeBlanc is on screen. He plays a hyper-realized version of himself, maximized for laughs, but in a different way than his Joey on Friends. The biggest problem with the show for me is that the main characters, the British couple, are kind of shrill, and its hard to warm up to them. And that’s not a great reaction to have to the main characters of a show.
  • NYPD Blue: Season 9 – The hit series returns to DVD with NYPD Blue: Season 9. This is back when Dennis Franz was still on the show, and his ever-changing partner roulette wheel landed this season on Mark-Paul Gosselaar. This was the season after 9/11 and the show worked the tragedy into the stroylines, which equalled some really powerful storytelling. It was also in the middle of some of its best years, so fans should be happy to see this new collection after a long wait.
  • House of Lies: Season 4 – This winning series from Showtime stars Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell as “management consultants.” They travel from big business to big business and help (swindle?) them, all under the guise of making companies (but also themselves) millions of dollars. The cast is terrific, and while the show has a cynical edge to it, I do find it pretty fun. Don Cheadle is always great, while Kristen Bell adds her own  brand of charm, and the supporting actors (most of which aren’t “name” talent) are all really good as well. Plus, the show isn’t afraid to swear, feature nudity, or use off-color humor, and it’s definitely risque at times, but it’s also razor sharp, rather than pandering to the lowest common denominator.
  • Archer: The Complete Season 6 – When Archer first debuted, I caught a bunch of the preview videos online, and thought it was hysterical. I mean, as much of a James Bond fan as I am, the character practically spoofs himself. It seems like a natural idea to parody the Bond/spy convention with a self-absorbed womanizer like Archer. But somewhere along the line, the show got skewed from the brilliance of those minute-long shorts. Or maybe it’s just that the show is like a Saturday Night Live sketch. Funny in short doses, deathly unfunny the minute it goes on too long. Whatever the reason, I tried and failed to embrace Archer. The humor just isn’t as sharp when it’s spread out over 22 minutes. The animation style is cool and the voice work is great, but as a whole, I don’t love the show as much as I want to.
  • Casual: Season 1 – I’ve really enjoyed Mikaela Watkins since I first saw her on a couple of episodes of The New Adventures of Old Christine several years ago. So I was happy to see her land a leading role on Casual, a fun and charming new Hulu dramedy that hits DVD this week. Along with co-stars Tommy Dewey, Frances Conroy, and Eliza Coupe, this show follows a brother and sister who live together with her young daughter. The show veers between comedy and drama and — at an hour-long as opposed to the traditional half-hour — it manages to work surprisingly well. This show has gotten some buzz online and I have to say that I can see why. Check it out.
  • The Gong Show Movie – Chuck Barris co-wrote this movie with Robert Downey Sr. (there’s a trivia question answer for you!) that basically creates a framing device around wilder and more uncensored Gong Show sketches. In it, we see a week in the life of Barriss, or at least a fictional week in the life of a caricature of Barriss. It’s actually a pretty entertaining film, despite the obvious age of some of the sketch material. But since it’s never been available on home video before, this is a pretty cool release.
  • Cherry Tree – Hmmm… witches. Are they the new thing? We saw vampires have their day for a while, werewolves have never been able to become “hot,” we’ve seen sharks cross-bred with every kind of animal/natural disaster imaginable… is it time for witches to get their due? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think Cherry Tree is the film that’s going to usher in their heyday. The film is actually fairly well-acted and has decent production values, it’s just not overly exciting. Still, considering the state of horror movies these days, you could do worse.
  • The Von Trapp Family: A Life Of Music – Aside from The Sound of Music, the Von Trapp family hasn’t really seen a lot of cinematic love. Maybe that’s because you can’t top The Sound of Music? Well, wisely, The Von Trapp Family: A Life of Music doesn’t try to. It instead attempts to be more of a traditional biopic and less of a sweeping musical epic. It actually makes pretty good family entertainment for families who love Sound of Music but have seen it plenty of times.
  • IdenticalsIdenticals is a pretty cool little sci-fi film about a company that identifies people who look, act, and talk like you but have better lives… so they can replace them with you. It’s a pretty neat concept and while the cast is largely unknown, Agents of SHIELD‘s Nick Blood does add a little star wattage to the proceedings. I love a good science fiction film, and while the limited budget is in evidence, it’s an interesting movie that really tries to create something cool, and I definitely appreciate that.
  • Curveball – Rockmond Dunbar stars (but doesn’t have the lead role) in this teen-based drama about a high school baseball star who starts to get led astray by his party-boy best friend. From there, it’s a typical story of courage, redemption, and hope, anchored by some pretty decent performances by the young cast. There’s nothing overly edgy going on here, but for family drama with a message, it’ll fit the bill.
  • Stealing Cars – An all-star cast couldn’t help this drama from going direct to video. Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy, John Leguizamo and Omar Epps all take on supporting roles while relative unknown Emory Cohen takes on the lead role. It’s a very formulaic tale of a young man who ends up in prison but refuses to let the system beat him down; of course he’s intelligent and charismatic and not really a bad guy. I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse, and I wish the supporting cast had bigger roles, but it’s an okay way to spend 90 minutes.
  • A Place to Call Home: Season 3 – The sweeping Australian drama continues with A Place to Call Home: Season 2. Imagine an Australian version of Downton Abbey set in the 1950s and you have some idea what this show is like. While that’s not a perfect comparison, it does set the tone. The acting is uniformly terrific, the characters are engaging, and the show is — like Downton — more addictive than you would think.
  • Dixieland – Chris Zylka and Riley Keough star in this solid drama about a young guy trying to stay clean after a stint in jail and his exotic dancer girlfriend. It’s your typical trying-to-get-out-of-this-small-town drama, but the performances are good, the script is strong, and the film as a whole isn’t bad. It’s not really my kind of movie but I have to say that I enjoyed watching it overall.
  • Hero Quest – Milla Jovovich, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci (where has he been?!?), and Whoopi Goldberg provide voices for this heroic animated children’s film. It’s a decent little flick for kids, even if it doesn’t reach the level of quality of a Dreamworks or Disney animated film. But I’ve seen a lot of these direct-to-video animated films and so many of them are so low-budget and painful to sit through. This one is at least an enjoyable if unremarkable film.
  • Peg + Cat: Super Peg & Cat Guy – A fun way for your kids to learn is by watching Peg & Cat: Super Peg & Cat Guy. This show has becoming quite popular with kids of late, and this DVD offers up some good value; you get eight episodes and almost two hours worth of shows. And with a super-hero flavor to some of the episodes, it’s the perfect disc to keep your kids happy while all the grown up superhero flicks are hitting the theaters this summer. Pretty cool!
  • Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Daniel Goes Camping – This latest installment of the popular PBS kids’ show features seven episodes of the popular series, with a camping 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 love the idea of going camping with their friends?