Puppets, cartoons, and Michael Bay characters!
Pick of the Week
Rick and Morty: Season 2
What is it? Rick is a mad scientist who knows his business but still manages to screw the universe up on occasion. He’s also something of an asshole. His grandson Morty is his willing assistant, sidekick, and guinea pig on these adventures. He’s also something of an idiot.
Why buy it? Comedy is subjective, but sweet jesus this show continues to be the funniest damn thing on TV. It’s crass, creative, witty, and surprisingly affecting at times too. The humor alternates between the incredibly smart and the likes of characters named Mr. Poopy Butthole, so you should know if that’s comedy you can handle. This season’s cliffhanger once again leaves characters in the lurch, but it’s also a whole new world around them which in turn promises bigger tales for season three.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Animatics, commentaries]
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
What is it? The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks gives rise to an organized assault on an American embassy in Lebanon, and as local security forces abandon their posts the ambassador and his small protection detail are overrun. Jack (John Krasinski) and the rest of his nearby team of ex-military contract workers suit up to assist, but their sniveling, condescending CIA boss forbids them from getting involved. Bureaucratic delays, excessive caution, and incredibly poor decision-making skills fuel his resistance, and by the time they make their move it’s too late for the ambassador. Worse, the attackers are readying a second assault on the CIA compound.
Why buy it? Michael Bay’s twelfth feature is neither his longest (Pearl Harbor, 183m) nor his shortest (Bad Boys, 118m), but it’s probably the first of his films that won’t have you pausing periodically to look at your watch. Politics aside, 13 Hours is a siege film, and in that simple regard it’s a blistering success. Our heroes are likable guys, the challenge facing them is daunting, and the action sequences are frequent, tense, and brutal affairs that showcase beauty in the film-making and horror in the deadly results.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a popular writer and speaker on the subject of customer service, but while he helps others he suffers from a problem he’s unable to resolve. He sees and hears everyone else as a variation of the same person (all voiced by Tom Noonan). He finds a singular exception in Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman with her own insecurities and issues, and together they hope to overcome their problems.
Why buy it? Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson co-direct this stop-motion puppet film, and that alone makes it worth a watch. Kaufman’s unique sensibilities translate well to the medium as the intricacies of the production, while smaller in scale, magnify his assessment of human emotion, depression, and love. It’s a dark film, darker than any of Kaufman’s previous, and while the mechanics of it along with some well-placed humorous beats lighten the feel it remains heavy in general. The film as a whole feels like a partial success though ‐ it’s a beautiful work of art, but by the time the credits role its emotional elements reveal themselves to be fairly limited.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Game of Thrones: The Complete Third & Fourth Seasons ‐ Steelbooks
What is it? As season six of HBO’s immensely popular adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s bestselling fantasy novels delights and terrifies viewers they’re re-releasing seasons 3 and 4 in sharp, new steelbooks complete with sigil magnets.
Why buy it? If you don’t already own these two seasons then these are the editions to get thanks to the slick packaging ‐ steelbook! magnets! ‐ and the addition of new Dolby Atmos audio, but that may not be enough to warrant a double dip. The image and special features are the same (although the digital codes are new and years away from expiring). As for the show itself, I don’t own many TV dramas ‐ comedies lend themselves to re-watches far better ‐ but Game of Thrones is one of the few exceptions thanks to its narrative denseness and fantastic production design. [Note: Each set has two spindles, and each spindle holds 2–3 discs. Some reviewers have noted receiving loose copies or finding discs face down on the spindle, but I found neither.]
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries, deleted scenes, bloopers]
What is it? Kunta Kinte (LeVar Burton) is abducted, along with thousands of others, from their home on the continent of Africa and taken to a new land on the cusp of becoming the United States. Not all survive the journey, and those that do are in for the most terrifying, difficult, and challenging years of their lives.
Why buy it? This TV mini-series was a phenomenal success when it aired in 1977 and was watched by 140 million viewers. Can you imagine that for a non-sporting event these days? (The M*A*S*H finale is the only other one to reach 100 million, and that was the early ‘80s.) These kind of numbers are impossible these days thanks to the multitude of options, streaming, dvd, etc, but it wasn’t just the times that gave this epic mini-series its audience it was the quality of the material. It truly is an epic tale following Kinte’s life and family through generations, and more than that it’s an important tale beautifully told. WB brings Roots to Blu-ray in gorgeous HD accompanied by numerous featurettes and docs featuring the cast, crew, and others.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, interview, 32-page book]
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan ‐ Director’s Cut
What is it? Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) is leading his Enterprise crew on what he expects to be his final mission, but the doldrums of space are interrupted by the news that an old adversary has returned. Khan (Ricardo Montalban), who was dropped an a desolate planet by Kirk decades prior, is out for revenge, and his plan for vengeance involves killing as many of the Admiral’s crew as possible.
Why buy it? Wrath of Khan is arguably the best of the original Star Trek films ‐ I say arguably, but come on, it’s the best ‐ and it holds up incredibly well across repeat viewings. The characters are in their prime, as is the cast, and the story manages both stirring action sequences and strong, emotional story beats. Its Blu-ray debut looks and sounds fantastic, and it includes a ton of supplements including a new featurette on the film’s effects.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes]
The Abandoned [Scream Factory]
What is it? Streak (Louisa Krause) is a young woman trying to move on from a rough past so she can regain custody of her daughter, and moving on includes showing financial stability. She starts a new job as overnight security for an empty apartment building ‐ construction was never finished, and the floors were never occupied ‐ and is partnered with a grumpy, wheelchair-bound prick named Cooper (Jason Patric) who resents her youth as much as he does her very presence. Her routine rounds reveal sights and sounds that both frighten and intrigue, but as she digs deeper into the building’s history and basement it becomes clear that she may never see her daughter again.
Why rent it? This is a compelling and creepy little thriller that succeeds for much of its running time at forcing viewers into a slowly-developing nightmare. Streak is a fragile character we can’t help but root for, but as the ornate architecture and endless halls envelop her escape and reunion grows more and more unlikely. It’s an effective descent, both visually and emotionally, but a risky story turn late in the film, while admirable, threatens to undue much of what came before. It works well enough for me, but your mileage may vary.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
What is it? Tommy is a horror author who still suffers nightmares from his childhood. As he and his adult siblings gather at their father’s (Judd Hirsch) home the past comes back to haunt them as Tommy’s memories challenge their own.
Why rent it? This is a slow-moving thriller anchored by committed performances, and while there are beats meant to surprise and scare the vast majority of the film tries to convey the building terror through dialogue and atmosphere. It’s successful enough to warrant a watch for genre fans with patience.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentaries, featurettes]
What is it? Justin (Taran Killam) has just been dumped by his girlfriend, live on a morning radio show, so he’s understandably depressed. He banters with co-workers, including his “quirky” gal friend Laura (Brooklyn Decker), and finally decides to give online dating a try. Will he find love in the big city, or maybe, just maybe, will he discover it was waiting for him in the next cubicle all along?
Why skip it? Killam, Decker, and David Krumholtz are likable enough actors, and there are a couple laughs throughout the movie, but good god how many times will we be subjected to this story line?
[DVD extras: Featurettes]
The Funhouse Massacre [Scream Factory]
What is it? Halloween is always a spooky time, but this year gets a bit scarier for one small town after a group of mentally disturbed inmates escape their asylum and set up shop in a carnival fun house. The gleefully evil gang begin picking off visitors one by one until a spunky group of survivors decides to fight back.
Why rent it? There’s a fun setup here accompanied by a handful of laughs, plenty of terrific gore effects, and a couple genre favorites in cameo roles. I think it would have worked better by committing either to the comedy or horror aspects though as the tone doesn’t really work with this wobbly balance. Still, it’s a fun, gooey romp that manages to entertain far better than most studio “horror” efforts do. Yeah, I know that’s still not saying much, but that’s all I got.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, video diaries]
What is it? Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a busy man. He works as a fixer for a major Hollywood studio where his job is to keep everything and everyone operating smoothly, but when their biggest star (George Clooney) is abducted Eddie finds his day quickly heading into overtime.
Why rent it? Anything directed by the Coen Brothers is worth at least a rental, and this screwball period comedy is no different. The cast alone is stellar with Brolin and Clooney joined by Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, and more. The film itself is beloved by many, but for me it’s something of a patchwork collection of hits and misses as the characters and story lines feel apart from each other. The energy is good, but the lack of cohesion and anything resembling growth makes it a lesser Coen creation. But hey, my favorite of their comedies is The Hudsucker Proxy, so what do I know.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Jarhead 3: The Siege
What is it? Cor. Evan Albright arrives at a US embassy in an unnamed Middle Eastern country for guard duty that by all accounts should be easy, but he’s not there long before a surprise attack threatens the lives of everyone there. Time to defend the compound against impossible odds for roughly 13 hours or so!
Why skip it? I’m saying skip it, but if you have the time in your day to watch extremely mediocre action movies where guns go bang and things explode but none of it is done with style, wit, or attractive cinematography then by all means give this one a rent. Scott Adkins co-stars, but it’s one of his gigs that doesn’t feature him spin-kicking his way through the bad guys so what even is the point.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
Kill Your Friends
What is it? It’s the late ’90s, and the music scene is booming. Steven Stelfox (Nicholas Hoult) is a UK-based talent scout for a record label hungry for hits, but his desire for success leads him down some dark paths involving deception, drug use, and murder.
Why rent it? Hoult plays a great prick ‐ he’s still light years away from the nuanced prickdom of someone like Jason Bateman though ‐ and the role takes great advantage of his slickly cruel and comic performance. There’s a familiarity to the character ‐ think American Psycho or Filth ‐ but the energy and propulsive beat keeps things feeling fresh enough to hold attention.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews]
What is it? The world is coming to an end as monsters make mincemeat of humanity, but one survivor has found a temporary solace from the carnage in a movie theater. As he sits down to enjoy his bloody popcorn a series of short films unspool on the screen in front of him.
Why skip it? Most horror anthologies manage to be something of a mixed bag, but this new Dread Central compilation leans heavily towards the cheap and unappealing. Terrible CG is a near constant, and the writing is rarely engaging or interesting ‐ a surprise seeing as John Skipp (of Skipp & Spector fame) is part of the talent posse here. The singular highlight of the film is the final segment, “Hellyfish,” which manages to overcome its cheesy CG with some fun visuals, a sense of humor, and a fantastic song by Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun. It’s a fun watch but not worth sitting through the ninety minutes that precede it. Skip it and read Skipp & Spector’s The Bridge instead.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? Martha (Anna Kendrick) is a nice young woman who’s just been jilted by her boyfriend, so when she meets a stranger (Sam Rockwell) in a store who spontaneously asks her out she says yes. What she doesn’t know is that he’s a hit man ‐ a hit man who only kills the people who hire him to kill someone else. That’s right, a hit man with morals! Can their love survive the violence heading their way?
Why skip it? It’s almost as if screenwriter Max Landis watched a double feature of Grosse Pointe Blank and True Lies and then thought to himself, “I can do that.” Surprise! He didn’t. The frequently ineffective and forced comedy is ramped up so damn high that it mutes the story and characters and quickly grows tiresome. I know, it’s blasphemy to say such a thing about a Rockwell joint, but even his shtick outstays its welcome. The same goes for Kendrick whose high point is an early stint with her drunk in a closet. Landis is riffing on the same beats of his own American Ultra ‐ guy with killer skills in romance with sweet woman, stlylized/comic violence ensues ‐ but it’s a pale copy. Skip it and watch American Ultra instead.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
One More Time
What is it? Paul Lombard (Christopher Walken) was once a popular singer with a lady in every town, but these days he’s just an old man cheating on his wife. Hid daughter Jude (Amber Heard) has musical ambitions of her own, but she also has some problems.
Why rent it? Walken is terrific. I know, that’s a given, but he gets a rare lead role here and delivers a man who’s tasted success and is hungry for it again. He wants to attain it again, but his ambitions butt up against his relationships. Heard does solid work too and proves herself capable in a deeper role than she’s accustomed too ‐ it helps that she’s not simply playing the “love interest.” Their banter and begrudging love for each other goes a long way in making up for the script’s otherwise lightweight feel.
[DVD extras: None]
The Shannara Chronicles: Season One
What is it? The end of the world is coming. It’s not too big of a deal of course as it already happened once resulting in the near-extinction of the human race and the rise elves, trolls, dwarves, and demons, but that doesn’t mean it’s welcome. Now three young, sexy strangers must join forces to stop the impending apocalypse.
Why rent it? Terry Brooks’ long-running fantasy series ‐ 28 books and counting ‐ finally hits the screen via this new MTV series, and the results are pretty much what you’d expect from an MTV series. Young, sexy people everywhere! Thankfully for those of us who want just a little bit more ‐ sorry Teen Wolf ‐ the story has depth, and the world looks pretty great. The dialogue is sketchy at times, but the visuals are impressive, vast, and varied.
[DVD extras: Featurettes, interview]
The Spoils Before Dying
What is it? Rock Banyon (Michael Kenneth Williams) was a jazz pianist before shifting careers and becoming a private dick, and now his latest case sees him digging into that past. He’s been accused of murder, he’s pretty sure he didn’t do it, and he’s running out of time.
Why rent it? IFC’s follow-up to their own The Spoils of Babylon once again sees host/film maker Eric Jonrosh (Will Ferrell) introducing his never before seen classic from the 1960s. If you enjoyed the first one odds are you’ll enjoy this one slightly less. It’s more of the same ‐ including several returning actors like Kristen Wiig, Haley Joel Osment, Michael Sheen, and others ‐ but the shtick feels a bit over-played this time around. There are laughs, the episodes are short, and these are funny people. Proceed accordingly.
[DVD extras: None]
Touched with Fire
What is it? Carla (Katie Holmes) and Marco (Luke Kirby) are poets who channel an aggressively creative way with words when they’re off their medications. That’s not a viable life for either of them though, and when they meet in a treatment facility they discover love among their shared traits. Unfortunately, they also discover that they may not be as good for each other as they hope.
Why rent it? I have an admitted bias against a handful of character types, and troubled artist is at the top of the list. That said, Holmes and Kirby do strong work here in portraying both the struggles and the joys of people suffering from bipolar disorder. There are unexpected laughs her too, although the majority of the film carries a certain degree of frustration with their antics and unavoidable outcomes.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
Vinyl: The Complete First Season
What is it? The music business in the ’70s is a crazy time, and Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannaval) is at the center of it all. Well, he’s at the center of the New York City music business anyway, but private jets and fax machines keep him on the pulse of it all as he works to make his label a success. Troubled artists, drugs, sex, and the pull of music itself all manage to get in the way.
Why rent it? HBO’s big new series boasts Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, and Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire) as behind the scenes players, and the production values are clearly high, but at the end of the day the show’s biggest appeal is Ray Romano. He’s fantastic here ‐ funny, of course, but also edgy and angry ‐ and many of the others pale in comparison. The episodes are well-acted, but the performances and familiar story lines are often over-shadowed by the music. That’s not a bad thing ‐ the music is often damn good ‐ but the drama just doesn’t quite hold the weight of the presentation.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, commentaries, featurettes]
What is it? Claus Pedersen is commander of a Danish military unit in Afghanistan tasked with protecting the locals and fighting the Taliban, but when a conflict leads to deaths he finds himself on trial for decisions made in conflict. Meanwhile, his wife Maria experiences her own struggles back home while raising their children.
Why rent it? There’s something to the idea of watching a modern day war film focused on foreign soldiers ‐ Western soldiers ‐ fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and unsurprisingly their dramas both in battle and back at home are the same ones faced by Americans. That understandable similarity means the story moves through recognizable beats. Unfortunately though, most of the film has nothing much to say beyond what we’ve already seen before.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, featurette]
Also Out This Week:
Le Amiche [Criterion Collection], The Boy and the Beast, The Confirmation, Every Thing Will Be Fine, The Martian: Extended Edition, No Home Movie, The Other Side of the Door, Rizzoli & Isles: The Complete Sixth Season, Zootopia