The Revenant – I don’t know how much more is left to say about The Revenant. Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu won Best Birector for the second year in a row. Leonardo DiCaprio finally got his Oscar. The film was a critical hit and — more importantly — a box office hit. Is this a movie worth watching? Absolutely. Is it a perfect film? Well, no, but that’s okay. Its such an intense ride with such great performances and amazing cinematography that you can forgive the slim story stretched out over a two-and-a-half hour running time. You might not even notice that, because the film is such a grueling white-knuckle ride that it’s hard to focus on anything other than trying to keep your hear rate to a manageable level.
Fifty Shades of Black – Sigh. There was a time, not even all that long ago, when parody movies were — if not intelligent — at least funny takes on the movies that inspired them. Sadly, that era seems to be over. Nowadays, to make a parody movie, all you have to do is make a whole lot of sex jokes. Just non-stop sex jokes over and over again. Now, before you write me off as some doddering old man, I have absolutely no problem with sex jokes, with one small caveat… THEY HAVE TO BE FUNNY. That’s the important element that parody movies like Fifty Shades of Black seem to be missing. Sure, Fifty Shades of Grey lends itself to a movie filled with sex jokes because of its subject matter, but it shouldn’t be hard to make fun of it and actually, you know, make the audience laugh. Or apparently it is that hard, because FSOB doesn’t manage to accomplish it.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – Shout Factory’s top-notch horror imprint Scream Factory brings us the debut of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 on Blu-ray, so you can see all the grime and gore in high definition. I’m a pretty big fan of horror movies, and I have a special place in my heart for 80s-era slasher flicks, but for some reason the Chainsaw Massacre films have always been my least favorite. I’d never seen Part Two before, though, so I popped it in and what I got was kind of what I expected: the usual over-the-top and disturbing blood, guts, and Leatherface. But this time we also get Dennis Hopper along for the ride, which adds a whole ‘nother level of crazy to it. Still, with a high def transfer and copious extra features, if you’re a fan, this is a must have.
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon – Far beyond just a documentary about movies like Caddyshack or Vacation, this fascinating documentary focuses on the magazine behind the films that started something of a national humor movement in America: The National Lampoon. While best known nowadays as a mere moniker for classic comedy films, The National Lampoon was as successful as any magazine in its day, offering up biting satire, sharp wit, and the skewering of icons. This film tells the story of the magazine’s rise to prominence and their eventual fade-out, and every minute of it is extremely interesting. This isn’t a making-of the National Lampoon films if that’s what you’re expecting, but it’s a film that’s definitely worth watching.
Silicon Valley: The Complete Second Season – While Mike Judge has never been able to replicate the success of Office Space, his new HBO comedy about life at an upstart in Silicon Valley at least comes close. It’s not the same as Office Space, but it is extremely enjoyable. It’s basically about a bunch of computer nerds who create an algorithm that could change the world, and what they go through as they try to create a company to bring it to life. There are some issues with the show (I like TJ Miller usually, but I find his character here extremely grating), but the core characters and actors are fun to watch, and the show is smartly written. It also benefits from an eight-episode second season. It was just enough to get through in one sitting, and now I’m ready to take a break and wait for Season Three.
Pretty Little Liars: Season 6 – I know a lot of fans are upset that Pretty Little Liars might be ending, but I think the show has run its course and this could be a good way to go out on a high note. I’ll admit that I shouldn’t like Pretty Little Liars. It’s soapy melodrama wrapped around central mysteries that grow ever more implausible as each season goes on. But… I do. It’s a lot of fun, and if you don’t take it too seriously and let yourself get sucked into the Nancy Drew-meets-Gossip Girl aesthetic of it all, it’s a fairly enjoyable show. Sure, there are moments where the dialogue will make you cringe, but the constantly ratcheting tension and plot twists are enjoyable, even if in a cheesy way. It’s not great television, but it’s good, entertaining fluff.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
- Ip Man 3 – Donnie Yen returns to the role he’s become most famous for, Ip Man, the real-life grandmaster who at one point trained Bruce Lee. I don’t know how much of what goes on in these films is based on true events anymore, but clearly historical accuracy isn’t the focus here. Instead, we get a drama/action hybrid that focuses on a man of learnings and study who finds himself occasionally having to use his martial arts skills to defend his honor. It’s an engaging series and a fine third film, although I hoe the series doesn’t feel the need to continue after a pretty solid trilogy.
- Veep: Season 4 – I don’t know why I like so many of HBO’s drama and genre shows and hate so many of their comedies, but boy is VEEP: The Complete Fourth Season a perfect example of what I don’t like. I’m a pretty big Julia Louis-Dreyfus fan, and I generally find her both very funny and a great actress. I figured that her playing the Vice President in a half-hour show would be comedy gold. Instead, I really don’t like this show at all. And the fault isn’t really Dreyfus’s. She’s absolutely fine in the lead role. It’s every other character on the show. I get that Washington DC is a place run by backstabbers and sharks, but there seriously isn’t one character in this show who isn’t an obnoxious a-hole. The dialogue is mean-spirited and insulting, and there isn’t a warm or mirthful bone in the show’s body. This is a nasty, ugly show, and to make it worse, it’s just not that funny.
- Misconduct – Josh Duhamel — an actor I’ve always liked — holds his own surprisingly well against Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino in this film that’s an odd cross between John Grisham Legal thriller and Alfred Hitchcock suspense film. The story is all Grisham, all the way, but the director clearly wants to make a Hitchcock film, with the cinematography, narrative structure, and musical score all straight out of the Master of Suspense’s playbook. The end result is a bit jumbled; it’s an interesting film punctuated by moments that are really good, but it never quite gels as a whole.
- Norm Of The North – It’s not easy to make a successful animated film these days if you’re not one of the big studios like Disney/Pixar or Dreamworks. I’m not sure if Norm of the North would qualify as a hit, although it did have a short run in theaters. Regardless, the film is a fun family movie that is geared for slightly younger viewers and is enjoyable enough to keep them entertained. It boasts a good voice cast that includes Rob Schneider, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Bill Nighy, Loretta Devine, and a host of other recognizable names.
- Haven: Complete Final Season – Early on, Haven seemed like an interesting enough show to watch. Described as a cross between Twin Peaks and The X-Files, I figured it had to be good for some typical sci-fi fun, right? Well, that’s exactly what it started out as, playing out exactly like a cross betweenEureka and Warehouse 13: a very typical genre/cop-hybrid show. One partner is a believer, one is a skeptic, weird things happen, case gets solved, neither partner changes their beliefs. Been there, done that. It was pretty much just Scully and Mulder with the gender roles reversed. That being said, the show has certainly evolved over the course of its run, developing a central mystery and recurring overarching themes. The lead actors are charismatic and the overarching mystery is tantalizing, and while it took me a while to warm up to this show, I have become a fan. That said, though, I think it’s good that the show is coming to an end. I feel like its run its natural course and is going out on its own terms. Nothing wrong with that.
- Daniel Tosh: People Pleaser – I love Tosh.0 and watch it religiously. That show is the perfect format for Daniel Tosh’s style of comedy and delivery. His stand-up, however, has always left me a bit cold. It’s not that he’s not funny, but I never find his stand-up as funny as he is on his show. Daniel Tosh: People Pleaser is probably his strongest set I’ve seen to date, so that’s a definite improvement over earlier offerings. I still prefer him in the shorter television format where he can just make funny comments on things, but if you’re a fan, you’ll probably enjoy this.
- And Then There Were None – If I look back on my love of mystery/suspense/noir films, I can probably trace it back to Ten Little Indians, the 1965 films adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s most popular books. I saw it on home video when I was a kid, and I was utterly enraptured by it. I honestly think it’s the first real mystery/suspense film I ever watched, and I’ve been fascinated by the genre ever since. So I was pretty excited by the is new TV miniseries version of the same book, which takes the same name as the original 1945 film version, And Then There Were None. Ultimately, it’s a worthy adaptation, although the expanded format allows for a first act that drags on a bit. Still, once the mayhem starts to occur, this is a pretty great adaptations of one of my favorite mysteries.
- The Lady in the Van – Maggie Smith stars in this endearing, quirky dramedy. I feel like that’s about all I need to say, because once you hear that Maggie Smith is in something, you already know you want to watch it. But this based-on-a-true-story film follows a woman who parks her fan on a man’s driveway and then proceeds to live their in it for the next 15 years is a charming little British film that will win you over. Smith is terrific — of course — and the rest of the cast is good as well. It’s not a film filled with any outrageous set pieces, but is instead a quiet little movie that’s worth checking out.
- Little House On The Prairie: Season 9 – Good night, John Boy! Take a trip back to the frontier with Little House on the Prairie: Season 9 – Deluxe Remastered Edition. Even though Lionsgate had been releasing this show on Blu-ray, this week’s release is DVD only. Is that because they haven’t been selling well enough to keep the Blu-ray releases coming, or is it just coming out at a later date? I’m not sure, but for now, this is the only option available. Still, for fans of the show, this final season collection will nicely wrap up their entire series set.
- When Calls The Heart: Troubled Hearts – 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: Troubled Hearts 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.
- Goldie & Bear: Best Fairytale Friends – Now that my kids have aged out of watching Disney Junior, I’m constantly surprised by these DVDs that come across my desk. I hadn’t even heard about Goldie & Bear until this new episode collection arrived for review. Basically, the show follows Goldilocks and one of the three bears, who are now fast friends, as they make their way through other fairy tales. It’s a fun little show, and this DVD boasts over two hours of episodes, which is a pretty good value. It also comes with a coloring/activity set in the DVD case, which parents will appreciate.
- Albert: Up, Up And Away! – This is a fun animated film that’s more whimsical in nature than anything else. The story follows a young boy who accidentally destroys his town’s statue, which leads him on an adventure involving a pirate-type bad guy and a diamond. It’s kind of hard to explain in a short narrative sentence, but it’s the kind of film that is fun and adventurous, although it’s clearly aimed at younger kids, not older ones. Keep this one in the kindergarden set and don’t try and force it on older kids and your children should be pleased with it.