We’ve got a wide range of releases this week, from big hits to art house classics to overlooked gems. Here’s the full breakdown:
Chappie – My love/hate relationship with director Neill Blomkamp continues. I honestly don’t know what to think of this guy. Technically adept, he continues to make movie about places I don’t want to live with people I don’t want to watch. That trend continues in Chappie, which — much like District 9 (a film I like a lot less than everyone else) — is visually stunning but filled with largely unlikable characters and set in a world that leaves me wanting to take a shower. The addition of Die Antwoord rappers Ninja and Yo-Landi to the cast as major characters doesn’t really help, as Blomkamp’s worlds just seem to get populated by stranger and stranger characters. Plus, I wish he could make a movie without Sharlto Copley that was filmed somewhere other than South Africa. All that said, there is something endearing about Chappie himself, so the film isn’t a complete wash.
Run All Night – Liam Neeson makes what amounts to Taken 16 with Run All Night, an action thriller starring himself and Ed Harris. The plot is pretty basic: when one bad-ass’s son kills another bad-ass’s son, all hell breaks loose as the second bad ass tries to kill the first bad-ass’s son. Yeah, it’s not complicated, but it’s sure better than the overrated Taken movies. The action scenes are sharp, and the scenes between Neeson and Harris are, not surprisingly, terrific. Plus, Joel Kinnamin continues to show that he is one of the best young actors today in his role as Neeson’s son. If you’re looking for a good action fix, this one might surprise you.
André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films – The Criterion Collection presents an astounding box set of three terrific movies by the team of Wallace Shawn (best known as Mister “Inconceivable” in The Princess Bride) and playwright Andre Gregory. These three films represent theatrical films that represent the best crossover between film and theater you’ll ever see. The first film, My Dinner With Andre, sees Shawn and Gregory playing versions of themselves, simply having dinner and ruminating on life, love, and acting. Directed by great French director Louis Malle, it’s a surprisingly engaging film, and I really enjoyed it. Vanya on 42nd Street sees Malle once again capturing the duo’s work, this time with a filming of a theatrical performance of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Julianne Moore co-stars, which makes it even better. Finally, Jonathan Demme takes the reins for the most recent film, A Master Builder, which sees Shawn and Gregory adapting a Henrik Ibsen play for the stage. Each film is remastered and restored and comes with a ton of extra features, and while each is available separately, they also come in a gorgeous box set. This is the kind of thing I love to see from Criterion.
Beyond the Reach – Michael Douglas stars in this terse thriller about a rich hunter who accidentally kills a man while hunting in the desert. When he refuses to report the crime and his guide tries to turn him in, he starts hunting a new prey. It’s a well-acted, well-written, terrifically paced thriller that I really enjoyed. Douglas is terrific — as always — while young Jeremy Irvine holds up extremely well against the veteran actor, matching him beat for beat. I’ve always liked “people being hunted” movies (which makes me sound more deranged than it should), and this film is a terrific entry into that category. Find it and watch it, because you’ll enjoy it.
The Newsroom: Season 3 – I’ve always liked Aaron Sorkin’s works, although I’ve never been a slavish devotee. I watched The West Wing for a season or so, but that was about it. The Newsroom, however, which focuses on the goings-on and the personal relationships at work at a major cable news channel, is pretty damn terrific. Sorkin does his usual mix of combining personal politics, character drama, lightning-quick dialogue, and people talking while walking, and it all comes together into a wonderful end result. Sure, Sorkin is pretty much giving us The West Wing or Sports Night in a new setting, but it is pretty damn enjoyable, so who cares? I’ll watch television this good no matter how derivative it is. The Newsroom — like many of Sorkin’s past works — will probably inflame some viewers and enthrall others. I’m in the latter camp, and I think most people in the show’s target audience will be as well.
Spirited Away/The Cat Returns – Disney and Studio Ghibli have re-released animation legend Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Spirited Away and The Cat Returns, this time making their Blu-ray debuts. As I sat down to watch these films for the first time, I had to reflect on the fact that — despite all popular critical opinion to the contrary — I’ve never really liked Miyazaki’s films. I hoped that this duo of two of the director’s more popular movies might change that opinion. Unfortunately, my opinion remains largely unchanged. I realize these are fantasy movies, but Miyazaki’s worlds are always populated by such oddball creatures and weird concepts that — for me, anyway — it always takes away from the central story. Still, there’s no denying that each of the three films is gorgeous beyond compare, and Miyazaki fans will be thrilled with these terrific new Blu-ray editions.
Time Lapse – The Flash‘s Danielle Panabaker stars in this little sci-fi indie that is surprisingly good. Fans of Convergence or Plus One will really get a charge out of this cool film about a trio of friends who discover a camera that takes pictures 24 hours into the future. Of course, whenever one runs across a way to see into the future, things are bound to go wrong, and this film does a great job of slowly turning the screws as our characters find themselves in more and more trouble. Set almost entirely in one apartment building, Time Lapse is proof that you don’t need a big budget to make great sic-fi. This is one that is worth tracking down.
Also available on Blu-ray and DVD this week:
- If you’ve ever wondered what Entourage would be like with a basketball star as the main character rather than an actor, then wonder no more. Survivor’s Remorse is exactly that. The film follows a young basketball star whose career explodes and signs a contract for millions of dollars. Along the way, his friends and family all try to skate off of his success, while he also has to deal with people who try to take him down. I wish I could say I liked the show, but it really doesn’t do much for me. And everyone’s insistence on calling each other a nickname that takes the f-bomb and adds a “y” to the end of it gets really annoying, really quickly. Not for me.
- Kristen Wiig continues her regular foray into the dramedy world with Welcome to Me, which features an all-star cast of co-stars including James Marsden, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Linda Cardellini, and Wes Bentley. While this story of a TV-obsessed woman who wins the lottery and uses the money to create a TV show for (and about) herself could be a broad comedy, it’s much more an exploration of loneliness and mental health issues. There are some laughs, sure, but this isn’t a traditional comedy. Wiig is excellent in the lead role, and fans of her work in films like The Skeleton Twins will find a lot to like here.
- Am I sorry to see that Two and a Half Men: Season 12 is the final season? No. Twelve years of that show is plenty. I’ve reviewed almost every season of this show, and I am quite literally out of new things to say about it. It’s a not-so-funny sitcom that is somehow still extremely popular, even if many of the other shows on TV are funnier. With Ashton Kutcher now firmly entrenched after taking over for Charlie Sheen after his much-publicized meltdown, the show is… well, largely the same. It’s still a bunch of jokes about sex, relationships, and some lowest-common-denominator fare. Ashton Kutcher’s character is different from Charlie Sheen’s, for sure, but the show as a whole is still pretty crass, and ultimately just okay. That final episode, though… wow. It’s something.
- Tentacles/Reptilicus is a new Blu-ray double feature from Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint. While on the surface (no pun intended) this pairing makes sense, the films are an odd match. Tentacles is a cheesy post-Jaws romp that stars John Huston and Shelley Winters. It’s a lot of fun, even if it copies Jaws almost beat for beat. Reptilicus, however, is a ’60s film way more along the lines of a Ray Harryhausen film. They’re not polar opposites, but they satisfy two very different film cravings.
- Arrow Video continues their bid to become the Criterion of oddball cinema with their release of The Happiness Of The Katakuris, a bizarre Asian black comedy that also happens to be from director Takashi Miike, acclaimed director of Mother and Audition. It’s a weird mash-up of comedy (sort of), musical (sort of), horror (sort of), drama (sort of), and animation (sort of.) Honestly, it’s the kind of movie that defies description. But it comes on Blu-ray for the first time and is packed with extra features, so fans should be thrilled.
- The Bold Ones: The Senator – The Complete Series collects the entire one season of a show I’d never heard of. I don’t say that to be rude, I’d just simply never heard of this show. But now that I’ve watched it, I’m sad it didn’t last more than a season. While it’s obviously a little dated now, it’s a terrific drama about an idealistic politician trying to serve his constituents. Sure, he’s maybe a little too idealistic, but Hal Holbrook’s performance is terrific, and the show clearly serves as a precursor to shows like The West Wing.
- Subtitled Art & Architecture in the Animal World, Nature: Animal Homes is a three-part series that looks at animals’ habitats in the wild, and the ways they vary and how they function. It’s actually pretty interesting stuff, looking at how animals interact with each other and their surroundings, and how they build their homes. Great stuff for schools and for people who like nature documentaries.
- 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: Paws for Applause, so while it does nothing for me as an adult, I’m perfectly happy with it. 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.