After the nearly universal acclaim and gigantic box office for the previous Bond outing, Skyfall, any follow-up was likely to suffer in comparison, even with the same creative team largely intact. Sure enough, the general consensus upon Spectre’s release seemed to be a resounding “meh” and lower ticket sales, but what all of that apathy masked was that judged on its own merits it’s still one of the strongest Bond films ever. Does the story make complete sense? Nope, but that’s never really been a drawback in this series. Sam Mendes returns to direct an ambitious tale that features the
Recently by Steve Geise
Craig and Mendes re-team for an effort that falls short of Skyfall’s heights, but not by much.
In Steven Spielberg's latest history lesson, our professor/director tackles the Cold War.
For the last decade, Steven Spielberg has been stuck in the past as a director, churning out one historical film after another. Even his only fictional films, Indiana Jones and Tintin, tread retro themes and times, making it clear that at this stage of his storied career he’s looking back rather than forward. That gaze to the past has now landed on the Cold War, and finds him reteamed with frequent collaborator Tom Hanks. When a suspected Soviet spy is captured in New York, the authorities realize that he must be offered legal representation and call in esteemed attorney James
1940s Italian film marries social commentary about the lower class with rewarding drama and romance.
Long before Dino De Laurentiis was a noted Hollywood producer, he produced Italian films such as this 1949 drama. Interestingly, his director on this film, Giuseppe De Santis, also had a deep appreciation of U.S. culture and Hollywood film techniques, although he maintained strong convictions about how his films should stake their own Italian identity both thematically and visually. His subject matter for Bitter Rice fully expresses those ideas as he wrings beautiful scenes out of a story set amongst poor farm workers. As the film reveals, every year scores of Italian women would leave home to find temporary work
Second film in the Maze Runner cycle fails to build upon the strengths of its predecessor.
While the first Maze Runner film delivered moderate thrills and sci-fi adventure, the sequel seems to be running in place. That’s partially due to the change of filming location from the humid wilds of Louisiana to the arid desolation of New Mexico, but mostly due to the film’s major plot shift. Where the first film had a great hook with kids trapped in a deadly labyrinth filled with gigantic puzzles and creatures, the new film ultimately plays like a lukewarm zombie apocalypse survival story. Our crew of heroic college-aged stars called the Gladers are set loose in a vast wilderness
Takashi Murakami’s first film is fun for the whole family but sorely lacking his usual artistic iconoclasm.
The most surprising thing about unconventional artist Takashi Murakami’s first feature-length directorial effort is that it is entirely conventional. Based on my experience with his artwork, I expected a surreal, incoherent, but visually dazzling film, but instead found the film to be a straightforward and family-friendly update on the kids with critters movies popularized in the 1980s by the likes of E.T. and Gremlins. The film is more homage than trailblazer, which seems like a missed opportunity for the visionary Murakami. The story follows a tween boy as he moves to a new town with his recently widowed mom and
Schumer gets some laughs, but Apatow seems determined to be a drama director.
Judd Apatow’s latest directorial effort has its problems, but first-time leading lady Amy Schumer isn’t one of them. Working from Schumer’s script, Apatow largely reins in the outspoken star, turning what should have been an outrageous raunchfest into a melancholy rumination on coming to turns with adulthood. The film’s somber tone continues the path of Apatow’s most recent feature film directorial efforts, This is 40 and Funny People, and even to some extent Knocked Up, reaching all the way back to 2007. In all of these cases and again in Trainwreck, the focus is on growing up and accepting adult
Italian stars Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni play against type in this beguiling drama.
The setup for this Italian film is deceptively simple, but belies the impact of the performances by its two stars, screen legends Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Playing against type, their characters meet by chance in their otherwise vacant apartment building and spend the entirety of the film and their day getting to know each other. Loren is a resigned and harried housewife, tired of the grind of caring for her oaf of a husband and ungrateful brood of kids but unable to find any escape. Mastroianni plays a persecuted journalist about to be shipped off for both his liberal
The third full-length movie starring alternate universe human versions of My Little Pony characters.
You know how kids are good for exposing you to stuff you otherwise never would have touched? This film is a prime example. Hasbro’s burgeoning My Little Pony empire has expanded its screen presence from its long-running TV series to this third film which is set in an alternate universe populated with human-like characters, not horses. Sure, it’s still a blatant marketing ploy to allow the pony franchise to compete with the older-skewing Bratz/Monster High/Ever After High doll lines, but it’s also wildly entertaining for both kids and their reluctant parents. When last we left the Girls, temporary arrival Twilight
The series marks the triumphant return of the nighttime soap opera to network TV.
The pilot episode of this series is a huge mess. Stuffed with a random assortment of seemingly unrelated scenes, frequent poorly executed time jumps, and enough laughable dialogue to qualify it as a comedy, it’s amazing that the show ever got picked up for full series. Thankfully, it did, and quickly became “TV’s biggest smash of the past decade” according to the cover art of this new Blu-ray set. The story of music industry titan Lucious Lyon and his highly dysfunctional family makes for great soap opera moments that should ensure the show’s continued success for a few years to
Steinfeld shines, Banks makes a fine director, but the returning characters tread water due to Kay Cannon's subpar script.
The Barden Bellas are in trouble. After winning the hearts of a cappella aficionados and casual fans everywhere, both within the movie and through its surprising box office success, the singing sensations of Barden University are now faced with the daunting proposition of how to continue their success. After a disastrous performance in front of the U.S. President, they promptly find themselves on the outs with their college and each other, knocking them right back to square one as they search for redemption. Enter teenager Hailee Steinfeld as new Bella recruit Emily, and seemingly the only member legitimately of college
Box set compiles five groovy '70s Japanese films.
Starting in 1970, Japan’s Nikkatsu studio produced the five films presented here, labelling them all under the Stray Cat Rock umbrella even though they aren’t really related. Although they have different characters and mostly different actors, their one common thread is their examination of Japan’s counterculture of the time. Characters are young, brash, and cool, existing in an underground of dance clubs, biker gangs, and vice, with nary a salaryman or authority figure in sight. The films are all about shaking up the status quo, but they also never venture too far out into leftfield like the works of earlier
BBC America's ambitious sci-fi show returns its focus to Maslany's multiple characters.
The latest season of Orphan Black is easily superior to Season Two for one reason: more Tatiana Maslany. Where the previous season got derailed by far too much exploration of the newly introduced male clones played by Ari Millen, these episodes wisely keep the focus on Maslany’s many delightful guises. That’s not to say the overall arc for the season makes much sense, but at least we’re consistently entertained by Maslany’s clone characters. As the new season gets underway, deranged and unstable clone Helena is locked away in a secret military compound, left so isolated that she begins having conversations
The second entry in The Divergent Series benefits from fancy special effects but not much else.
The films of The Divergent Series have firmly established themselves in the second tier of young-adult literature adaptations, joined by such other lesser lights as The Maze Runner and Percy Jackson films. This second film in the series doesn’t contribute much to change that position, aside from a noticeably larger effort in the special effects department. There’s very little action to be had here, and far too much dialogue, leading to a largely unconvincing film punctuated by occasional bursts of CGI wizardry. Now that our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) has discovered her true nature as a powerful divergent, she and
Book Review: The Amazing Spider-Man: The Ultimate Newspaper Comics Collection Vol. 1: Black and White and Read All Over
Collection provides ideal format for cohesively enjoying the long-form stories.
Let’s face it: daily newspaper comic strips have never been a great way to follow serialized stories. When a story is doled out in just a few panels a day, it’s difficult to follow and even more difficult to appreciate as a whole. Thankfully, IDW Publishing is here to save the day with their latest archival comic strip project covering the first two years of Spider-Man’s daily adventures. This comic strip wasn’t just handed off to junior hacks; it was written by the character’s creator and architect of much of the Marvel universe, Stan “The Man” Lee. Likewise, the art
Nicholson breaks out in this early headlining role.
A year removed from his breakout supporting turn in Easy Rider, Jack Nicholson moved to headliner status in this 1970 character study. Filmed during a time when character studies weren’t exactly prevalent in Hollywood, director Bob Rafelson’s film helped to lead a shift in the industry that paved the way for subsequent ‘70s greats. That’s not to say it holds up well, as it now seems to be a dated relic of a bygone era. Nicholson’s character Bobby Dupea is introduced as a lackadaisical oil-field worker, content to toil away in his job during the day and blow his pay
The Muppet Babies of the DC Universe.
Like much of DC’s animated fare, this series has its share of fans and detractors, but not for the typical reason. It completely avoids the common DC downfall of being too dark, broody and mature by instead swinging much too far in the opposite direction, presenting the candy-coated juvenile shenanigans of a group of heroes who are drawn and frequently act more like grade schoolers than teenagers. It’s more Powerpuff Girls than Batman, but with even less superhero action. I supposed that’s all well and good for the target younger demographic, but it’s not likely a series you’ll be able
The world's largest Star Wars convention offered stars, cosplay, exclusive merchandise and recreated film sets.
Feel like getting an autograph from Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, or Anthony Daniels? Still want that autograph? The biennial Star Wars Celebration took place over the weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center, an occasionally frustrating experience in extreme fandom. This was the place for fans so hardcore that they camped out overnight for the chance to attend a panel that the rest of the world was able to instantly enjoy via livestream from the comfort of their home/office. Sure, that panel debuted the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer and featured old and new stars live on stage, but
DC's latest animated film is a dark but engaging adaptation of Batman's Court of Owls storyline.
The title of DC’s latest animated film is catchy, but it’s also a bait and switch. Sure, Robin briefly toys with the idea of aligning himself against Batman, but he’s not the enemy here. That honor instead goes to Talon, the head assassin of the Court of Owls. The film also serves as a superior sequel to previous entry Son of Batman. If you haven’t kept up on recent Bat history, the Court of Owls was revealed in 2011 in an instant classic comic book run by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo. The Court is a secret criminal
Documentary shines a spotlight on the legendary animation Studio Ghibli and its visionary co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki.
Studio Ghibli has long garnered acclaim as an animation powerhouse, and yet very little is known about its inner workings and the creative process of its primary director, Hayao Miyazaki. That all changes here, with documentary filmmaker Mami Sunada granted exclusive access to the studio over the course of an eventful year. That year found the tiny studio producing not one but two new features, The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, both of which went on to earn Oscar nominations. Even during the hectic animation timeframe, there’s a heavy air of melancholy over the studio as
Producer John Aglialoro completes his quixotic quest to adapt Ayn Rand's epic novel to the screen.
The final act of this unlikely trilogy spotlights a strong-willed individual who ignores public opinion and forges ahead with his own vision. That’s John Galt, the messianic character of the work, but also John Aglialoro, the financier behind the entire endeavor. Operating far outside of the studio system and critical approval, Aglialoro here completes the daunting task of bringing author Ayn Rand’s magnum opus to the screen. That in itself is a measure of success, albeit the only success the film is likely to experience. If you’ve been following along with the prior installments (Part I and Part II), it
Derivative of many other dystoptian works, but with enough fresh spin and worthwhile performances to make it a winner.
Oh great, another teen dystopian flick, right? Yes, The Maze Runner seems like an also-ran following the lead of the Hunger Games and Divergents of the world, and yet it called to my mind an entirely different predecessor: Cube. In both films, a group of strangers wake up in an ever-changing, deadly maze with no memory of how they got there, and must band together to find their way out. Another similarity: they're both surprisingly entertaining. As efficiently directed by Wes Ball, the film thrusts viewers right into the nightmare without any preamble, following lead character Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) as
Frank Capra's romantic comedy classic shines in new Criterion release.
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time in cinematic history when romantic comedies were extremely rare. That all started to change, for better or worse, with the 1934 release of this Frank Capra gem. The film went on to sweep the five major Oscar categories, netting statues for stars Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, director Capra, and screenwriter Robert Riskin, cementing its status as a Hollywood classic. That classic is now 80 years old and was showing its age, so its recent meticulous restoration and new release on Blu-ray offers a completely refreshed take on the film. Colbert
Emmy-winning Danish TV series features Mads Mikkelsen as an unconventional detective.
Long before international star Mads Mikkelsen terrorized TV viewers with his take on the role of Hannibal Lecter, he acted on the right side of the law in his native Denmark in this 2000-04 series. The entire series has now been compiled into this three-volume collection for U.S. release, offering viewers a look at his early TV work in a compelling police drama. Unit One is Denmark’s elite mobile detective task force established to assist local police efforts around the country. The detectives don’t just travel, they bring their entire office with them in a massive tractor trailer, reporting to
Agatha Christie's approved actress expertly brings her literary heroine to life in the investigation of deaths.
Agatha Christie’s famous fictional heroine has moved from page to screen many times, but this series bears the distinction of the author’s seal of approval on the lead actress, Joan Hickson. All of 78 years young at the time of her casting, Hickson continued portraying Miss Marple in this series for the next eight years before finally stepping down. Hickson brings gravitas and wisdom to the role, getting more mileage out of questioning glances than younger actresses could achieve with pages of dialogue. Miss Marple is the quintessential nosy old lady, a simple civilian who somehow finds herself involved in
Intelligent, thought-provoking sci-fi drama with winning performances and production design.
Chris Evans struck box-office gold with his latest Captain America film this year, but his other recent comic book film is equally entertaining. Based on an obscure French graphic novel, Snowpiercer imagines a post-apocalyptic world that has frozen over, trapping all human survivors on a huge train on a perpetual voyage around the world. Much like Speed, if their transport drops below a certain speed, they’ll all die, but in this case it’s due to the extreme cold outside rather than any explosives. The train has a rigid class system, with the poor huddled masses in the rear and the
The 2nd biggest live-action comedy of 2014 has an incredibly simple premise but surprises with its refreshing delivery.
This summer’s breakout comedy hit delivers on its deceptively simple concept via some fresh character development, largely avoiding what could have been a one-dimensional yawner. That concept, expertly conveyed by the poster, finds a nice young family facing off against a raucous fraternity that moves in directly next door to their home. Instead of leaning on hoary stereotypes for the two warring sides, the film switches up the formula by making them more similar and hence more sympathetic to each other’s situation, in the process weaving in coming-of-age themes for the residents of both houses. Don’t worry, it’s far from
Second season of this tropical murder series flirts with interdepartmental romance but otherwise maintains staid formula.
A stuffy English investigator gets transplanted to a laidback Caribbean island to solve their murders and his own misanthropy. Even after a year on the island, Detective Investigator Richard Poole (Ben Miller) foolishly clings to his stodgy habits, wearing full dark suits in the blazing tropical sun, searching for a decent cup of tea, and gathering his suspects at the end of each case for his grand chamber reveal of the culprit. He’s completely out of place in his environment, and makes barely any attempt to adjust, but boasts a stunning closure rate on his cases. Meanwhile, the local police
Bob Fosse’s crowning directorial achievement shines in the Criterion spotlight.
Joe Gideon is tired. Tired of women, tired of choreography, tired of drugs, and yet inexplicably driven to continue pursuing all of them, to the detriment of his health. As a legendary Broadway director, he’s at his peak but so burned out that he struggles to remind himself “it’s showtime” as he drugs himself awake each day for more rehearsals leading up to the debut of his new musical. As Gideon, Roy Scheider nails the world-weary lead character, especially impressive given that he was directed by the character’s thinly veiled inspiration, Bob Fosse. Fosse’s immense talent for choreography is on
Tatiana Maslany continues to impress in her multiple characters, but the show has cooled.
Here’s some breaking news: Tatiana Maslany is amazing. Although the Emmys don’t seem to recognize her existence, or the existence of sci fi in general, she continues to impress as the star who breathes credible and distinctly individual life into her multiple clone characters. Unfortunately, the show writers are running a bit ahead of themselves this season, concocting an occasionally confusing and overly ambitious season that is less effective than the first. Maslany’s fiery lead character Sarah starts the season in a desperate search for her young daughter, Kira, who has been kidnapped by the icy, evil, mastermind clone Rachel.
Blu on Blu-ray is the best way to experience this musical, colorful jungle, although the lackluster story falls short.
Although the first Rio didn’t really set the box office on fire or generate frantic demand for further adventures, it was apparently successful enough that the studio forged ahead with this direct sequel. Mostly, it seems like an excuse for Brazilian creator/director Carlos Saldanha to further promote his homeland and its music around the world, and viewed as a travel documentary it’s fairly successful in that quest. As in the original, Rio 2 is filled with authentic and energetic Brazilian music, as well as vibrant representations of the country’s landscape. If only it had a story to match the sumptuous
Atmospheric and deadly serious mystery show set in the dramatic Welsh countryside.
Although we Yanks are mostly familiar with Wales in relation to “Prince/Princess/Duchess of”, it is very much a real place with its own distinct language and customs. That Welsh air of mystique gives Hinterland a leg up on other UK mystery series right out of the gate, and the expertly crafted cases and exceptional production design keep that momentum going throughout this excellent first season. It’s also worth pointing out that we’re getting the season very quickly, as it was just broadcast in the UK this May and is already here on DVD. New DCI Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington) is
Traditional British sleuthing set in the easy-going Caribbean.
Given the sheer volume of British mystery series available, it’s almost essential to have a hook to differentiate from the crowd. This one has a gem, transplanting a stuffy English detective from London’s Metropolitan Police to a backwater tropical paradise in the Caribbean. While the humor of the situation is entirely predictable, it’s still a fine setup for this fish-out-of-water series that initially feels more like Northern Exposure than Midsomer Murders. That humor, while fairly pedestrian, keeps the entire series light-hearted in spite of its murder-based premise. DI Richard Poole (Ben Miller) is dispatched to the fictional island of Saint
Oscar-nominated film is short on substance but long on style.
One of the biggest surprise nominees at this year’s Academy Awards was this little-seen French animated film. Thanks to its new arrival on Blu-ray on June 17, it’s now readily accessible to the U.S. masses. This is a tale of two cities: the city above ground populated by bears, and the city underground populated by mice. The two tribes keep entirely to themselves, with mice being trained from childhood to avoid the fearsome bears at all costs, but adorable orphan mouse Celestine fantasizes about friendly bears in spite of the warnings of her elders. Meanwhile above ground, lovable oaf Ernest
Oddball choice for Marvel's latest print comic conversion to motion comic.
Marvel continues their ongoing motion comics conversions with this tale starring the omnipresent Wolverine. While there’s no shortage of Wolverine stories ripe for motion comics treatment, this isn’t necessarily one of them. Aside from a key co-starring role by current Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. character Deathlok, as well as brief cameos from other Marvel heroes, the story and art aren’t compelling enough to deserve the motion treatment. The movie stands okay on its own, but pales in comparison to the rich legacy of other entries in the deep Wolverine catalog. Wolverine is enjoying a pint with Captain America when they’re attacked
Father and son PIs solve crimes and crack wise in rustic Newfoundland.
Every so often a product crosses our desks that appears to be so unique it demands a closer look. This one has a simple but immediately captivating premise: father and son private investigators in Newfoundland. Anybody out there watch much TV from Newfoundland? Me either! Although it took four years for the first season to wash up on U.S. shores, this CBC series makes good use of its beautiful location and delivers some genuinely entertaining and lighthearted crime investigations. The show is more concerned with the evolving relationships of its principal characters than the crime of the week, making for
Action series completes its run with an abbreviated final arc.
Nikita’s long strange trip from Luc Besson’s original 1997 film to her second TV series reaches its conclusion in this brief final season. Planned from the start as a six-episode farewell, the season finds all key players returning for one last blast as they tie up loose ends and resolve their relationships. Nikita (Maggie Q) is in a serious jam at the start of the season. She’s been framed for assassinating the U.S. President, so she finds herself on the run and cut off from everyone including her loyal team of ex-Division agents. With only six episodes, she has a
Impressive cast wasted on faulty script that attempts to pack in too many plots and instead masters none.
Out of the Furnace is a frustrating misfire, made all the more dispiriting by the unwarranted high caliber of acting talent it attracted. As writer/director Scott Cooper’s second feature film, its most lasting impact is the recognition that his first film, Crazy Heart, also wasn’t very good. If you missed it during its miniscule theatrical run at the end of last year, its rapid appearance on Blu-ray also speaks volumes about its position as an underachiever. The film’s biggest flaw is that Cooper doesn’t know what he wants it to be: a tale of brotherly bonding, an ex-con’s redemption story,
Kurosawa and Mifune team up for another classic.
A long time ago in a country far, far away, esteemed director Akira Kurosawa filmed a grand adventure that took the unorthodox approach of framing the action through the perspective of the lowliest of peasants rather than gallant heroes. While those sniveling peasants eventually encounter and join a noble warrior and a princess in hiding, their initial misadventures add a light and comedic touch to a story that could have easily been staged as a conventional epic drama. George Lucas readily admits to being influenced by the film as a basis for the original Star Wars, drawing a direct parallel
It’s best to stick to Vol. 1 for the superior writing and art.
This French comic is currently receiving renewed international attention thanks to its use as the source material for a new movie of the same name. The film features an intriguing international cast and crew headlined by Chris Evans (Captain America) and directed by Joon-ho Bong (The Host), and while it has already been released in much of the world to positive reviews it’s still stuck in Weinstein limbo in the U.S. As a result, these handsome new hardcover graphic novels from Titan Comics are currently our only legal way to get in on the action. The Snowpiercer is a train
There’s not much to really draw readers into the story, leaving the art as the main attraction.
With all of the Sherlock Holmes revisionism in movies and TV over the past few years, it’s become confusing to determine exactly what Sherlock you’re getting in any new project. In the case of this new graphic novel from Dark Horse Comics, the character hews close to the original novels, although his adventure veers far outside their grounded realism. This Sherlock and his Watson are aging, established investigators living in late 19th-century England. There’s no funny hat on Sherlock, but otherwise the characters are about what you would expect based on the original books. Likewise, the writing and art are
Final season of show that put Danish TV on the US map exits gracefully
When we last saw feisty Danish Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg (the stellar Sidse Babett Knudsen), she was calling for a general election for Prime Mininster, seemingly signifying the end of her political career and the series. Flash forward two years in both real and series time, and she’s back, but not the same as before. As expected, she’s no longer PM, no longer involved in Danish politics, but also no less opinionated or driven. As a civilian, she’s taken up with a dashing British businessman and is enjoying domestic life, but soon yearns for a return to the political arena,
Great action but not much story.
A few years ago, DC Comics rebooted their entire superhero line under the audacious New 52 plan, throwing out decades of comic-book history in favor of fresh takes on their legendary characters. No simple renumbering stunt, the plan resulted in characters being taken back to their origins, meeting their allies and foes for the first time. Justice League was the most high-profile book in the launch due to DC’s heaviest hitters at the helm: Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns writing and Co-Publisher Jim Lee on pencils. Now the first arc of their Justice League relaunch has been turned into the
Little-known superhero gains new life at Dark Horse Comics.
A patriotic Nazi-fighting U.S. superhero who disappeared in the 1940s suddenly appears in the present day, seemingly not a day older. Captain America? No, Captain Midnight. As part of Dark Horse’s renewed focus on superhero titles, they’ve dusted off this character who actually was created in the 1930s but fell into obsolescence in the ensuing decades. Now he’s back in an all-new ongoing series by writer Joshua Williamson (Masks and Mobsters) and artist Fernando Dagnino. Upon barreling out of the Bermuda Triangle in the same plane he disappeared in during World War II, Midnight is briefly incarcerated on a U.S.
Jeph Loeb's underwhelming return to Marvel goes nowhere and isn't helped by Bianchi's polarizing art.
Wolverine and Sabertooth are at the pinnacle of classic comic-book opponents. Jeph Loeb is a reliably impressive writer and TV producer. It stands to reason that this motion-comic project should be a classic, especially since its source comic-book arc marked the return of Loeb to the Marvel writing stable after a lengthy stint at DC. Unfortunately, it’s not, and the blame for that appears to be entirely Loeb’s, although he’s not helped by artist Simone Bianchi’s polarizing art. Instead of a meaningful story arc that explores the still-mysterious relationship between the two characters, we’re treated to a meandering, dreamy trip
Timeless classic enhanced by new digital restoration and bonus features.
Never ones to pass up a marketing opportunity, the fine folks at Disney lined up a two-fer with the Blu-ray debut of this classic film. Not only is this the 50th anniversary of its theatrical release, but it’s also timed to coincide with the theatrical release of Saving Mr. Banks, the new film about Walt Disney’s efforts to win the rights to make Mary Poppins. If it’s been a few years or decades since your last visit to the rooftops of London, now is the ideal time for a return trip. In case you’ve been stuck in a chimney for
Veteran series wraps up its run with a dark and dreary arc.
USA Network’s veteran spy show took a turn for the deadly serious in Season 6 with the murder of a supporting character, a dark tone that continues throughout the seventh and final season. What started as a light-hearted action show devolves here into a grueling test of viewer loyalty as lead character Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) enters a deep cover mission working for an evil mastermind, leaving us and Michael questioning whether or not he’s still a good guy. It’s as if creator Matt Nix forgot his show was on USA, land of breezy comfort TV, and instead wanted it
Twisty tale supported by strong performances.
Child-abduction movies aren’t ranked high on the must-see lists of most viewers, making the stellar cast assembled for this project all the more remarkable. That cast should be a hint that this isn’t your average hostage flick, but is instead a twisty and surprising tale that quite literally put me on the edge of my seat. That’s not to say the plot is without holes, and it’s best not to think about the details too hard, but viewers willing to let the story take them for a ride will be in for a delightfully suspenseful trip. Hugh Jackman stars as
You're the one for me, fatty.
OK, it actually came out in late October, but I just watched it and the tagline was too tempting to pass up. Commemorating the first 25 years of his solo career, Morrissey’s new concert Blu-ray serves as a vivid reminder of the towering body of work he has produced. Rather than utilizing a typical arena venue, the concert was filmed in the intimate 1900-seat auditorium of Hollywood High School, an unlikely and inspired choice that adds a visceral energy to the set. Unfortunately, the show gets off to a tepid start with “Alma Matters” and “Ouija Board, Ouija Board”, eliciting
Plucky little snail makes for a winning tale of hope and brotherly love.
An unusual thing happened in the world of feature film animation this year: DreamWorks didn’t release any sequels. The home of Shrek, Madagascar, and Kung Fu Panda has long been derided as a sequel factory, making their full focus on original projects this year a welcome change of pace. While The Croods ended up becoming a box-office success early this year, DreamWorks hit a rough patch with Turbo this summer, with the speedy little snail seemingly getting lost in the busy seasonal release schedule. Now that the film is available for home consumption, it's time for the general public to
An enlightening collection of the seminal works from the godfather of American independent film.
Whether or not you enjoy the directorial efforts of John Cassavetes, it’s impossible to overlook his contribution to the rise of American independent film. In an era when it was virtually unheard of to operate outside of the studio system, Cassavetes did so multiple times, and to wide acclaim, virtually crafting the blueprint for all manner of scruffy auteurs who followed in his wake. Thanks to Criterion’s Blu-ray release of this essential box set, five of his strongest works are now available for viewing in high definition, and they’re well worth your time. Cassavetes operated on both sides of the
Fast-paced espionage thrills continue in the show’s final full season.
Shows airing on CW aren’t generally known for the strength or complexity of their writing, but Nikita has been a delightful surprise during its run with ever-changing dynamics that promise and deliver thrills at every turn. Just when you get used to the status quo, the writers throw in a plot twist or untimely character death to keep us guessing where the characters will go next. Sure, those twists stretch believability at times, and the characters are a bit one-dimensional, but this is a consistently entertaining show worthy of adding to your queue. Of course much like other CW shows,
Idris Elba continues to put in strong work as DCI John Luther, too bad the season is only four episodes long.
If you’re looking for a feel-good cop show with a tidy resolution at the end of every episode, this is not the show for you. Idris Elba’s John Luther character goes about as dark and deadly serious as any modern protagonist, and his adventures tend to span multi-episodic arcs. Unfortunately, Luther’s seasons are also woefully short, so just about the time you’re easing into the pervading gloom, the end is nigh. For the third series (and first in two years), we get a grand total of four hour-long episodes, making this set more a miniseries than a proper season. Luther
Veteran show continues its predictable and comfortable run.
Bones is the TV equivalent of comfort food. You know what you’re getting, you know you won’t be challenged in any way, and you’re ok with it because, hey, it makes you feel good. In this eighth season set, the show is generally operating on cruise control, as is the relationship between Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and Booth (David Boreanaz). They have a kid together, they’re living together, and there’s nary any strife in their harmonious work and personal lives. Yawn. Brennan is still the smartest “squint” working at the Jeffersonian (basically an elaborate DC crime lab), applying her vast knowledge
A step down from the first entry, but not without its charms - until the final act.
Remember how in the original Star Trek film series the even-numbered movies were the best? Apparently the current revisionist Abramsverse has flipped the script on that old adage, as this second entry is a step down from the superior first film. Some bitter fans have recently taken to calling this the worst Trek film of all time, which is complete rubbish when comparing it to clear winner Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, or even the last Next Generation film if you want to bring them into play. No, this isn’t an entirely bad film, it just falls into the
Miyazaki Jr. proves to be an adept director on his second attempt.
Goro Miyazaki is in a tough position. As the son of beloved living legend Hayao Miyazaki, and a budding anime director himself at his father’s Studio Ghibli, he bears the weight of tremendous expectations and more than a fair share of doubt. After lackluster results on his first feature length directorial effort, Tales from Earthsea, the pressure and stakes increased significantly for this, his second attempt. Thankfully, the charming results prove that he learned from his initial missteps and is back on track to successfully continue his father’s legacy. In a departure for a Ghibli project, the film is fully
Dark animated fantasy demands parental attention to PG rating.
I don’t ever pay attention to MPAA ratings on animated films, because why bother? After decades of reliably mild animated projects, punctuated only by very rare aberrations such as The Black Cauldron and Legend of the Guardians, the average consumer expects a certain level of saccharine status quo in our talking animal feature films, making ratings meaningless. The trailers for Epic did nothing to dispel that notion, introducing a magical forest world with tiny humans blissfully riding hummingbirds and interacting with comical snails. Big mistake, marketing department. If you have younger viewers, this is one case where you need to
Satyajit Ray’s first portrayal of contemporary Indian life reveals the impact of women in the workplace.
Prior to The Big City, director Satyajit Ray had never tackled a contemporary project, choosing to focus on explorations of traditional Indian life. Those traditions are upended here, as his move to the 1960s allows for a look at the rise of women in the urban workplace, as well as the resulting fallout in the home environment. As in much of his work, he zooms in on one family in particular, utilizing them as a microcosm of the prevailing cultural changes of the time. In order to make ends meet, a plucky wife named Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) searches for and
Exquisite sets, direction and performances serve a far too predictable tale.
This is not a Bollywood film, at least not in the accepted modern-day definition of the term. Half a century ago, the Indian film industry was not constrained by today’s formulaic insistence on bloated three-hour lengths, paper-thin rom-com and action plots, cartoonish one-dimensional characters, and song-and-dance numbers. Instead, talented creators such as Satyajit Ray had the latitude to explore the artistry of film, contributing meaningful works that measure up well against the best of the rest of world cinema. Out of all of his films, Ray was most proud of this one because it had the “fewest flaws”, and it’s
George Smiley is the polar opposite of James Bond. They’re both spies for the British Secret Intelligence Service, but Smiley is a retired old desk jockey who gets by entirely on his clever mind rather than any feats of derring-do. As once again fully embodied by veteran screen legend Alec Guinness, following his masterful turn in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Smiley is a cunning, dogged individual who uses his wits to navigate the murky politics of the SIS as well as their clean-up operation for a dead informant. Unlike its predecessor, Smiley’s People also features a screenplay written by original
There’s a point in this sci fi series that one clone is asked to temporarily impersonate another clone and you wonder how she’ll pull it off, completely forgetting that star Tatiana Maslany is playing both roles. That’s the depth and strength of her performances in this mind-bending show that finds her portraying multiple wildly different characters sharing the same genetic makeup. While she’s the key reason to watch, the series as a whole is deliriously mesmerizing and highly addictive. In the season opener, a streetwise outsider named Sarah witnesses a professional young lady calmly taking off and folding her jacket,
Portrait of a Japanese woman's gradually declining station in life takes far too long to make its entirely obvious point.
While watching this film, I was reminded of another tale of a classy lady who gradually becomes marginalized: Anna Karenina. Like Tolstoy’s character, Oharu spends her young adult life in the pampered upper class before losing her status due to infidelity. Although Oharu’s end isn’t as tragic, her inevitable social decline is immediately revealed from the framing sequence of the opening scene, making for a less than compelling and completely obvious story prolonged far past its ability to hold my attention. Unlike Anna, Oharu has many stops on her road to ruin, with her initial affair just the first of
Ever wonder about how Wolverine got his start? So did the rest of the Marvel Comics Universe and its readers, until this comic book miniseries launched in 2001. Now the series has been repurposed into this motion comic DVD, making for a thrilling new experience for first-timers as well as forgetful readers of the book. From his introduction to the Marvel Universe, Wolverine was always a shadowy character with a murky past made even more perplexing by his own memory loss. We knew he aged slowly, we knew he had been around a long time, but not exactly how long
Second season finds the show firing on all cylinders, making its cancellation all the more baffling.
A group of high school outcasts battles supernatural beasties and their dastardly principal. Oh, and there’s a musical episode. Nope, not Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the further shenanigans of this deliciously entertaining Canadian import. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Todd and his buds balance bawdy comedy with gory horror, resulting in a show that is most definitely not for kids but pure heaven for genre aficionados. Todd is a typical slacker metal fan, far more interested in hitting the sheets than hitting the books. The mysterious Book of Evil is still terrorizing his school, flitting around like a
Denmark's first female prime minister continues to battle adversity at home and work.
Who knew Danish politics could be so much fun? Picking up a year after the first season, this collection finds Birgitte Nyborg, the first female Prime Minister of Denmark, fully in control of her elected position and no longer the tenuous newbie of before. That professional mastery comes at the expense of her personal life, as she remains separated from her husband and faces a new challenge in the form of her now clinically depressed teenage daughter. Meanwhile, her press secretary and closest aide, Kasper Juul, finds himself living with a girlfriend he doesn’t love, all the while carrying a
Epic black and white Czechoslovakian film tests narrative patience but offers ample visual rewards
You know how Game of Thrones gets really confusing with the various warring clans populated by so many characters that we barely get to know any of them? Now imagine if those medieval adventures in Westeros were moved to Czechoslovakia, filmed in black and white, and shot like an art film. Director Frantisek Vlacil’s epic 3 hour film limits the opposing parties to two tribes, but devolves into so much artistry along the way that its seemingly simple war story becomes a dense exercise in comprehension. This is a movie for hardcore movie lovers only, as it offers no conventional
Second DVD collection from the TV series contains fast-paced standalone episodes with no unifying arc.
For those new to this vibrant and expertly animated series, Slugterra is an underground land populated with many different types of humanoid creatures and slugs. The denizens don’t know about our above-ground Earth, and humans don’t know about Slugterra, but lead human character Eli Shane has moved to Slugterra thanks to some insider information. When last we left Eli and his intrepid underground adventurers, they were forming a close-knit group (the Shane Gang) that was united in its efforts to defeat the evil Dr. Blakk. Their weapon of choice: adorable assorted little native slugs that transform into mighty battle beasts
After rejoining the CIA, Michael Westen gets burned again.
If you’ve never watched USA Network’s long-running crime/action show, here’s a quick recap: faithful US spy gets blacklisted by his own government, spends the next few years using his formidable skills to help civilians in need while simultaneously tracking down who burned him and why, before finally solving enough of the mystery to return to the good graces of the CIA. Bring on Season 6! Once again ably abetted by his support team of retired Navy Seal Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell), demolitions expert and love interest Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), fellow burned spy Jesse (Coby Bell), and his long-suffering mother (Sharon
New co-star inevitably changes the chemistry, but not for the better.
After only one season, co-star Lucy Punch is gone. While that wouldn’t be a big deal for a show with a large ensemble cast (see any CSI or Law & Order), this buddy cop comedy/drama series really only has two stars. The massive change in the core chemistry of the show is akin to what would have happened if Moonlighting had replaced Cybill Shepard, or for you younger readers, if Bones replaced Emily Deschanel. New co-star Miranda Raison is pleasant, easy on the eyes, and game to help the show, but she’s not Lucy Punch. To further compound problems, the
Feature length film expands on the story of the Lego Batman 2 videogame.
I recently slammed the achingly buffoonish LEGO Star Wars Blu-ray while lamenting that LEGO would have been much better served by farming out its production to the studio behind their licensed videogames, Traveller’s Tales. Lo and behold, my prayers have been answered in their latest release, as LEGO Batman The Movie was directly produced by Traveller’s Tales and is directly related to their hit videogame from last year, LEGO Batman 2. As gamers know, the LEGO Batman 2 videogame introduced a massive open world Gotham City populated with not just Batman acolytes and foes, but fellow Justice League members and
Standalone movie format makes latest series of ‘60s-set British mystery show accessible to all viewers.
With a seemingly unending stream of British mystery series in play, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for relatively recent arrivals to our shores to distinguish themselves. George Gently attempts and succeeds by setting the action in 1960s Northern England, giving it a welcome retro slant in technology and fashion. It’s great fun to watch our lead detectives attempt to solve crimes without the assistance of modern advances, getting by on their wits and moxie. Also, the series is instantly accessible to new viewers even in this Series 5 release thanks to its standalone movie format and lack of principal character development.
British TV import follows a group of five lottery winners from poverty to riches
This British TV drama about lottery winners gets off to a shaky start until we get to know the downtrodden characters. While they initially seem completely unrelatable and unappealing, they all gain some depth over the course of the five-episode series. The creators structure the series in such a way that each episode focuses on one primary character, while also mostly avoiding retreading ground already covered in previous episodes. That leaves us with one consistent and progressing plot, but five different aspects of the story, a winning approach that is a perfect match for the material. When five lowly convenience
Marvel’s latest motion comic is a welcome spotlight on an overlooked classic
Marvel has released quite a few motion comics in the past few years, but none as surprising a choice as this overlooked classic. Rather than flood the market with an obvious Spidey or X-Men tale, or even a book from the origin title of these characters, the Fantastic Four, Marvel took the welcome opportunity to shine a light on these largely unknown characters. The basis for this release is a 12-issue comic book series by writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee. Their story reintroduced these minor characters 15 years ago, in the process greatly elevating the Inhumans in the
Tragic love story fails to build credibility, negating the tragedy
Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, this Oscar-winning Japanese film has fallen off the radar over the past few decades but is poised for renewed interest thanks to Criterion’s release. Its director, stars, and story are no longer widely known commodities, which is oddly something of a blessing since the film and its performances now have the opportunity to completely surprise modern viewers. That’s not to say they succeed, but it’s worth the watch. When a hot-tempered, obstinate country bumpkin of a swordsman encounters a comatose high-class courtesan, he becomes smitten with her as he revives her and protects her
Daniel Day-Lewis is completely mesmerizing, but the literary writing is what truly elevates the film.
Lincoln is one of those films I had to force myself to watch. As a Very Important Film from esteemed director Steven Spielberg and starring esteemed actor Daniel Day-Lewis, it arrived with so much weight attached that it felt like a burden to dive in. Thankfully, the highly literary writing from Tony Kushner elevates the film, as his well-crafted plot centers on only the final months of Lincoln’s life and is just as concerned with the political intrigue on Capitol Hill as it is with the man. Rather than falling into the typical biographical trap of recounting the entire life,
Short and unamusing project wastes both licenses.
I love all of the LEGO video games. Love love love them, and play all of them to completion. A big part of what I love about them is the witty and hilarious writing by the development team at Traveller's Tales, and I’ve often wished for them to take on a video-only project. Unfortunately, I’m still wishing. Rather than hand off production of this TV-special-turned-DVD to a proven commodity, LEGO has engaged another group which shall remain nameless because I didn’t look them up, and the end result is like open mic night at the local comedy club: amateurish and
Danish political drama offers compelling characters but somewhat lightweight stories.
This Danish political drama recently received some unexpected U.S. traction when author Stephen King took to the pages of Entertainment Weekly to boldly proclaim it as the #1 TV show he watched in 2012. That’s not to say it was actually broadcast in 2012, but that’s when he watched it. The Season One set collected here was first broadcast in Denmark in 2010, and just wrapped up its third and final season earlier this month. So does Uncle Stevie know what he’s talking about, or is he just a doddering old-timer out of touch with pop culture? Well, Borgen doesn’t
Terrence Malick's debut feature film sets the standard for the rest of his career.
Forty years ago, writer/director Terrence Malick’s first feature film announced the arrival of an important new voice. Through the ensuing decades Malick’s stature has grown, in large part due to the 20-year break he took that added a reclusive air to his legend, but also due to the increasingly obtuse and inscrutable nature of his output as most recently seen in The Tree of Life. Criterion’s new Blu-ray release reveals the genesis of the Malick mystique in a pristine, feature-rich package. Martin Sheen stars as a rudderless young malcontent named Kit, a rebel without a clue who is drifting through
Director Ang Lee's film is a visual delight, but carries little emotional weight.
Ang Lee fully deserves his Oscar win for successfully bringing this seemingly unfilmable project to screen, but the end result gets by more on its lush imagery than its story. The film is a laundry list of items directors like to avoid: filming on water, working with animals, using an untrained lead actor, and extensive blue screen post-production. The fact that Lee drove the difficult project to fruition over its four-year gestation is highly commendable, but when that's the key selling point it's clear there's a problem with the source material. The film is largely an exercise in futility; a
There's little of interest here for most girls over the age of about six.
Once upon a time, Strawberry Shortcake was aimed squarely at little girls. Originating as a greeting card character, then expanding into toys and her initial TV specials, the sweet and innocent character and her fruity friends were huge in the early '80s. Since then, various brave souls have taken cracks at revamping the property, foisting multiple character redesigns on the public in the hopes of triggering another wave of popularity. As you can see by the cover art of Strawberry's latest DVD, she's not such a little girl anymore. The current redesign implemented in 2009 aged up Strawberry and her
Based on the movie title, one would expect Sansho to be the main character. One would be wrong. In fact, Sansho is little more than a peripheral character who has a huge impact on the actual leads but doesn't even appear until a quarter of the way through the film, and then only briefly. Director Kenji Mizoguchi's adaptation of a classic Japanese story is actually about a family torn asunder by a political feud, and their decade-long quest to reconnect. When a highly-principled governor defies a local feudal lord, he's forced into exile while his wife and two children flee
Continuing adaptation of Ayn Rand's epic novel recasts lead roles but doesn't improve lackluster quality.
After middling returns for the first movie, it's surprising that this second installment even exists. For that fact alone, the makers deserve some measure of praise for sticking to their guns and continuing what most would view as a fool's quest. The film seems to exist as a real-world demonstration of author Ayn Rand's theory of objectivism, with the creators steadfastly believing in and fulfilling their vision with no regard for financial gain or public perception. If only they had the skills to accompany that vision. With TV veteran John Putch in the director's chair, the end results are inevitably
Home video release features exclusive interviews with President Carter and the actual subjects of the film.
A funny thing happened on Lincoln's way to Oscar domination: Argo came back from the dead. With a stunning slew of major wins throughout awards season, most notably multiple director wins for the Oscar-slighted Ben Affleck, Argo has now emerged as the likely frontrunner for the Best Picture Academy Award. If you missed it in theaters, Warner Brothers has shrewdly timed its home release for the week leading up to the Oscars, ensuring that the retail channel is primed for the increased interest generated by the awards. They've also packed the Blu-ray with exceptional supplemental material including extensive interviews with
Animated series has a tired monster-battling premise but a winning art style.
Deep beneath Earth's surface, tribes of various humanoid characters live and do battle with adorable little slugs. Why slugs? Because those harmless little critters transform into gigantic, ferocious battle beasts with varying abilities when they reach the speed of 100 mph. Joining a long list of monster-collecting toons such as Pokemon and Kaijudo, Slugterra has a fairly stale premise but executes it with eye-popping visual style and frenetic pace, broadly hitting the mark of its intended pre-teen male audience. Eli Shane is a normal teen boy living a typical suburban life on the surface, but he has a family secret:
Faithful adaptation of Frank Miller's classic comic book delivers epic clash of the superhero titans
Warner Bros Animation's concluding adaptation of Frank Miller's classic comic book series contains the fight every superhero fan has imagined at some point: Batman vs. Superman. Sure, there's plenty more going on, especially the events leading to that bone-crushing confrontation, but as a defining moment it's pretty hard to top. The project is a faithful adaptation that is definitely not for kids, with violence and murder aplenty and wild Miller touches such as a swastika-pasties wearing bad girl fully intact. It's also a thoroughly entertaining film that maintains a brisk pace all the way to its thrilling conclusion. Batman is
Masterful political drama anchored by a mesmerizing lead performance by Ian Richardson.
Have you finished your binge marathon viewing session of the new Netflix series starring Kevin Spacey? If so, you're ready to dive into this original UK adaptation of the Michael Dobbs novel. Don't have Netflix? That's fine, this is likely the superior product, if for no other reason that the completely mesmerizing lead performance by Ian Richardson. While Richardson never gained much fame here, if you're of a certain age you know him from one classic commercial line: "Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?" Now imagine that stuffy Brit as a conniving politician intent on getting his way
Marginally funny mockumentary series about the planning committee for the London Olympics loses something in translation.
This irreverent British mockumentary series about the inner workings of the London Olympics planning committee takes a fantastic premise and grinds it down to a yawn-inducing final product, then somehow stretches it out over two seasons. The overblown pomp and circumstance of Olympic Games are certainly fertile ground for comedy, especially when those Games are being held in the motherland of pomp and circumstance, and yet the series somehow manages to mostly miss the extremely large target. Some of that is due to comedy that just doesn't translate, such as apparently comical discussions about celebrities like Sebastian Coe who are
Second season features the last appearances of the full original cast.
What is it about the BBC that makes them incapable of maintaining original casts on their shows for prolonged periods of time? Do they just not pay enough? Do the actors and/or creators just get bored, even though they're producing such infinitesimally small season orders of episodes that we're basically just getting the equivalent of a movie or two a year? Whatever the reason, Misfits is one of the latest examples of this regrettable phenomenon, which thankfully doesn't really set in until the close of this second season. This set represents your final chance to see the breakout hit about
Stunning craftsmanship elevates this meditation on the effects of war as experienced by a child
On the surface, this film might not seem to offer much enticement for viewing considering its decidedly downbeat subject matter of the effects of war on a child. Surprisingly, quite the opposite is true. Director Andrei Tarkovsky spins a rich tapestry that primarily utilizes the horrors of World War II as a backdrop for this dreamy, at times almost surreal, and exquisitely filmed work of art that is far more notable for its craftsmanship than its narrative. Shockingly, it was Tarkovsky’s debut feature, marking as even more impressive his total mastery of the medium. Ivan is just a carefree young
Lincoln leads the nominations and is likely to lead the wins as well.
'Tis the season for Oscar forecasting, so let's get started. This year I've held off of seeing most of the candidates, so my speculation is purely fueled by best guesses of how the votes will likely go down based on traditional patterns of the Academy. At first glance, it appears that the results this year will largely be determined by how the Academy feels about Lincoln. If the uncanny performance by previous winner Daniel Day-Lewis is enough to override general exhaustion about Spielberg's return, this is going to be a year dominated by Lincoln wins. Aside from that juggernaut, a
Acclaimed director Michael Apted continues his legendary documentary series in its latest seven-year installment.
For nearly 50 years now, a group of ordinary English citizens have been participating in an ongoing sociological study that checks in on them every seven years. Esteemed feature film director Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) has been involved from the very beginning in 1964 when the subjects were just seven years old, and returns here once again as the director and interviewer. Now the subjects are 56 years old. If you’ve seen any of the films in the series, you’ll know exactly what to expect here, but
This year's Christmas episode has a disappointingly lame villain but an extremely effective setup for the Doctor's newest companion.
Santa Claus brought Doctor Who fans a new companion this year, and she proves to be a keeper. As 19th century barmaid/governess Clara Oswin Oswald, actress Jenna-Louise Coleman ensures that the Ponds won't be missed. I know, that sounds like heresy in the wake of the immense fan-favorite Amy and Rory characters, but give the new girl a shot, she's going to be a classic. The baddie of the episode is underdeveloped, but I'm more than willing to forgive that for the great jumping-on point continuing showrunner/writer Steven Moffat delivered under our trees this year. Of course we've met Clara
Indie darling of the year is indie for a reason: it’s defiantly non-commercial.
Director Benh Zeitlin‘s film is this year’s Little Indie That Could, a micro-budgeted, challenging art house effort that defied long odds to first gain distribution and then achieve substantial critical acclaim and a fair amount of public knowledge. That’s reason enough for some amount of adulation, as adult dramas have been in deep freeze at the megaplex for so many years now that it’s comforting to see one break through every so often. As for whether it’s worthy of its high profile, that’s entirely up to how much viewers are open to flights of fancy and tales of swamp people.
First series stretches a glacially-paced tale over six hours.
As we gear up for the imminent home video release of series 2, let's take a look back at series 1. The Hour has a great deal going for it on paper, beginning with its period setting in a ‘50s BBC newsroom, along with a uniformly great cast featuring a couple of players familiar to US audiences: Dominic West (The Wire) and Burn Gorman (Torchwood). The show looks great and is packed with fine performances, but it moves at such a leisurely and uneventful pace that even its short six hour running time feels entirely too long. I literally found
Alain Delon is a dashing, magnetic force in this early adaptation of novelist Patricia Highsmith’s "The Talented Mr. Ripley".
Remember The Talented Mr. Ripley? Director Anthony Minghella’s 1999 adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s crime novel helped launch Jude Law to international fame, but it wasn’t the first go-around of the story. No, that honor goes to this film, produced in 1960 just a few years after the novel’s publication. As in the modern-day incarnation, the film succeeds due largely to the phenomenal casting of the complex Tom Ripley character, in this case filled by rising star Alain Delon. Delon was in his mid-20s and just coming into fame at the time of the film’s production. He’s impossibly striking here, possessing
Scrat is still the star. Too bad he can't support an entire film on his own.
Scrat’s back for more frosty adventures, but unfortunately so are the rest of those other boring characters. As anyone who has ever plowed through an entry in this long-running series knows, it really only comes to life during Scrat’s brief nut-chasing interludes, adding comedic gold to an otherwise leaden enterprise. This time around, the creators attempt to inject some excitement by adding a ferocious monkey pirate captain and his menacing crew to the mix. Yes, you read that right, Ice Age has turned into Pirates of the Caribbean. This is clearly the most unbelievable development of the entire series and
Lushly produced UK period drama takes a nauseating look at a profession I’d prefer to ignore.
Author Ayelet Waldman calls the memoirs that served as the basis for this series “tremendously moving”. I agree, but in my case I was tremendously moved to hit the off switch to avoid seeing any more distasteful medical situations resulting from the show’s subject: midwifery. I stuck in there so you don’t have to, but let me tell you, I wish my eyes could unsee some of the footage the creators chose to include. See, it’s one thing to explore the little-seen world of midwifery, but the show attempts to get dramatic mileage out of the extreme medical cases encountered
Not in the top tier of today's best animated series, but a worthwhile and enjoyable monster-fighting show with decent plots and artistry.
What do you get when you cross giant monsters and sweet martial arts fighting? Kaijudo! I didn’t initially figure out the genesis of the title, even though it is fairly obvious, so I appreciate the bonus feature on this new DVD that explains how the creators married kaiju (the Japanese term for giant monsters) and judo martial arts to come up with their concept. We’ve seen plenty of monster-fighting cartoons in the past such as Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon, and just like those series this one is a tie-in for kids merchandise, in this case a collectible card fighting game. Like
Chris Marker's black and white still film runs rings around his pretentious color full-motion travelogue.
Director Chris Marker’s two most well-known works have been compiled into one Criterion release, but only one of them is worth revisiting. Surprisingly, it’s the black and white La Jetee, comprised almost entirely of stills, rather than the color and full-motion Sans Soleil. La Jetee tells a science fiction time travel story by utilizing narration over a series of still photographs. It sounds like a terrible idea, but the end result is completely transfixing even if it’s not always fully comprehensible. There’s no attempt to add simulated motion to the photos by panning or zooming, it’s literally just still after
Screen legend Jimmy Stewart upholds his legacy with an effective TV turn as a Southern defense attorney.
Did you know Jimmy Stewart starred in a TV show? Actually, he headlined two series during his illustrious career, with this crime drama being the latter. The show followed a movie-of-the-week format, or rather every other week, and therein was its most likely cause of demise. See, the series alternated broadcast weeks with a TV series adaptation of blaxploitation film classic Shaft, making it difficult for either series to build ongoing viewership momentum. After nine feature-length episodes, the plug was pulled on Hawkins, but thanks to the Warner Archive gang we now have a chance to check out this TV
Exceptionally high production qualities and writing elevate TV series above toon standards.
DreamWorks Animation finally has a truly great animated series. While they have previously produced the Penguins of Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda series, those efforts felt somewhat flat and remained largely confined to only undiscriminating younger audiences. With Dragons: Riders of Berk, they have crafted a lushly animated, creatively written series that is fantastic entertainment for the entire family. They also carried over principal voice actors from the original film, most significantly star Jay Baruchel returning to voice Hiccup, America Ferrera as Astrid, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (aka McLovin’) as Fishlegs. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that they were concurrently working
There's a funny story to be mined from the concept of hapless neighborhood watchmen, but this isn't it.
Remember how funny many of Saturday Night Live’s Digital Shorts were? Remember the ones that weren’t, such as most of the recurring Laser Cats shorts? Hit or miss, the majority of them had the same director: Akiva Schaffer. As one-third of Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island collective, Schaffer also got a feature film directing gig helming the underperforming but low-cost Hot Rod. Now he’s stepped up to the big leagues directing The Watch, with a hefty studio budget and top-tier stars to match, but his same scrappy “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” ethos is still in full
Joss Whedon's conventional alien war story fails to impress, but John Cassaday's artwork shines in simulated motion
I forgot how much I love John Cassaday’s artwork. While writer Joss Whedon was the unquestionable star of the Astonishing X-Men comic book run used for this motion comic, this final DVD installment reminded me just how crucial Cassaday’s contribution was to its overall success. The concluding outer space story arc featured here never really soars from a narrative perspective, but its artwork is consistently out of this world. The motion comic folks have also stepped up their game, adding enough kinetic energy to the tale that it approaches actual animation. The X-Men are off to the intergalactic wilds of
Early tandem between legendary director Akira Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune yields this undisputed classic film
If you’re reading this review, chances are you’re fully familiar with this classic film and just have two questions: how’s the restoration and what are the bonuses? Feel free to skip to the fourth paragraph while I get the obligatory setup and plot summary out of the way. Esteemed director Akira Kurosawa fully established his presence on the international scene with this impressive and Oscar-winning 1950 film. His go-to leading man Toshiro Mifune did the same, furthering a working relationship between the two that carried through for decades to come. This is a younger Mifune than we’re used to, with
Brenda Blethyn’s feisty and frumpy detective shows the whippersnappers how to solve crimes
There’s something irresistible about old-timers solving crimes, although the quality of those crime shows isn’t always timeless. Thankfully, this vehicle for Oscar-nominated actress Brenda Blethyn is firmly in the success column, featuring decent writing, slick production, and believable characters. If you haven’t watched the show before, it’s perfectly ok to dive right into this second set since each story is self-contained and the characters are more concerned with solving the crime of the week than developing their own arcs. Blethyn plays obsessive DCI Vera Stanhope, a veteran cop who pursues criminals with laser-like focus and intensity. She may be approaching
Generic and difficult side-scrolling hack-and-slash adventure is an unfortunate throwback to 16-bit gaming days.
One of the most pleasant surprises of the current golden age of animated shows is Cartoon Network’s Thundercats reboot. Regrettably, that pleasure doesn’t carry over to this video game tie-in from Bandai. The first inkling of trouble might be the fact that it’s only available on Nintendo DS. Not Vita or 3DS, just the now basically retired DS. That throwback ethos carries over to the actual gameplay, which has more in common with Sega Genesis era actioners than even the most basic of modern side-scrolling games readily available on every mobile phone platform and many websites. For example, The Legend
Robert Zemeckis returns to live-action direction in a heavy drama with a light script
After spending most of the last decade laboring over a string of motion-capture CG films I’d prefer to forget, director Robert Zemeckis finally returns to live action this weekend. To his credit, he certainly didn’t tackle an easy project for his return, choosing a challenging drama the likes of which aren’t seen very often in modern multiplexes. He’s also blessed with a fully-committed lead actor in Denzel Washington, but ultimately gets stranded by a perplexing script by screenwriter John Gatins. There’s much to like about the film, particularly the tandem of Zemeckis and Washington, but its abhorrent lead character and
BBC America’s first original scripted series misses the mark in spite of the stellar track record of its creative execs.
Not content to just rebroadcast programming from the UK, BBC America has entered the arena of original scripted programming with this new series. They made a shrewd move by partnering with established and well-respected TV creators including Tom Fontana and exec producer Barry Levinson of Homicide: Life on the Street and Oz fame, along with co-creator Will Rokos (Monster’s Ball, Southland). Those creators came up with a sound concept, developing a gritty crime show in 19th century New York City. Homicide: The Civil War Years? Yes please! So far so good, but then we come to casting. The series hinges
Well-written video game jettisons familiar characters in favor of a new cast and new situations set in the same vicinity of the original property
Creator Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse tale isn’t just chewing up comic book racks and TV ratings, it’s also terrorizing video game platforms including Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. After being released episodically via digital download every couple of months starting this spring, the game's five chapters are now being compiled into a physical “full season” disc release. The individual chapters continue to be available for immediate download as well, and at a cost of only $5 per episode there’s not much incentive to wait for the $30 standard compilation unless you have to own a shiny disc or you want
Stephen Fry is charming as a country solicitor, but his show is a snooze.
A long time ago in a country far, far away, two young comedians were introduced by Emma Thompson while all three were attending college. The comedians decided to team up to conquer their country, and went on to become the wildly successful UK duo Fry & Laurie. Hugh Laurie later went on to even greater fame and fortune in the States playing a misanthropic doctor named House, while Stephen Fry stayed home and eventually ended up in this project. Poor Fry. While he’s charming enough as a personable country solicitor, his latest show is largely a snooze. It’s the kind
Joshua Marston's first full film since Maria Full of Grace explores an Albanian blood feud and its impact on a teen boy
Remember Maria Full of Grace? Writer/director Joshua Marston’s 2004 film about a Colombian drug mule garnered international acclaim and recognition including an Oscar nomination, but since its release he has mostly only surfaced to occasionally helm episodes of various US TV shows and a segment of the anthology film New York, I Love You. His return here to feature films will be familiar to all Maria viewers, as he again takes the approach of following a small, personal story set in a foreign land and a foreign language. This time his story is set in Albania instead of Colombia. Raise
Wes Anderson’s unmistakably heavy-handed style threatens but fails to derail innocent love story.
There’s no mistaking a Wes Anderson movie, and with his latest work he’s more distinctive than ever. That’s both a good and bad thing. While it’s great to have a defiantly original writer/director operating successfully within Hollywood, his heavily stylized, almost theatrical approach is so overpoweringly quirky that it threatens to obscure the plot and message of the film. If you’re not a fan of Anderson, this film won’t change your mind. However, if you’re onboard with his oddball oeuvre you’ll be right at home in his lighthearted and nostalgic new world. On a small island off the coast of
The marketing blurb “U.K.’s most popular drama series” seems a bit farfetched based on this uninspired material
This long-running UK drama series has been airing in its native land since 2006 and has appeared on BBC America, but is only just now reaching U.S. DVD racks. It’s rare for a current UK series to surpass 100 episodes with little visibility here (ok, it’s rare to surpass 100 episodes period), so I was intrigued to find out how this flew under my radar for so long. I can’t speak for its ongoing quality in current episodes, but at least at its start, the series is a fairly uninvolving and uninspired look at the lives of students and teachers
The addition of martial arts star Michelle Yeoh kickstarts the franchise and breaks the mold of the typical Bond girl.
I've seen all of the Bond movies. I've read all of the original Fleming novels. And yet, this DVD is the only Bond item I've ever owned. Is it the best Bond film of all time? Probably not, but it is a completely worthwhile and accomplished entry in the series that's worth another look. It's also the first Bond film with no relation to Fleming's life or work, and the first Bond film made after the death of Cubby Broccoli, who had been involved with production of the series since its start. As such, the producers had added incentive
“Oh, the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on.” Don’t Stop Believin’, Journey
Sherrie and Drew are destined to meet and fall in love. She’s just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world. He’s a city boy, taking the midnight train to a career dead end in the music industry. In director Alan Shankman’s big-screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, the star-crossed lovers battle career adversity to realize their 1980s rock’n’roll dreams on the fabulous Sunset Strip. Since the theatrical run time of 123 minutes apparently wasn’t long enough, the new Blu-ray now offers an even more extended cut that pushes the length to 136 minutes by adding another song
Kenneth Branagh returns for his third tour of duty as Sweden’s most famous inspector
In between filming Wallander series 2 and 3, star Kenneth Branagh directed a little art house film called Thor. In the process, he gave a turbo boost to the career of his Wallander co-star Tom Hiddleston, directing him as the baddie Loki. Hiddleston’s impact was muted in the first two series of Wallander due to his relatively minor and cookie-cutter junior detective role, so with the greener pastures of the big screen calling it’s no surprise or great loss to find him missing from the police roster this time around. That gap in the department allows some fresh blood to
Exceptional new restoration of classic French film enhances an already monumental work.
At first glance, this film might seem like a poor candidate for greatness, or even relevance in our era. It’s over three hours long, French, in black and white, and occasionally features pantomime performances due to its early 19th century theater setting. Sounds pretty bad so far, right? Instead, Children of Paradise is an enthralling, transcendent, and absolutely essential masterpiece. Thanks to its exceptional and meticulous new restoration, it’s even better than ever now and fully worthy of a permanent place in your Blu-ray collection. The film is set in a Parisian theater district teeming with crowds for its offerings,
Buddy cop show seeks laughs instead of clues
The hilarious opening scene of this offbeat cop show sets the tone for the rest of the series. A man and woman casually wander around a beautifully appointed home admiring and discussing its merits before deciding that the woman should make an offer on it. All well and good, until the camera pulls back to reveal them standing over a bloody corpse. Turns out they’re detectives examining a murder scene, but they don’t let that get in the way of their personal business. As series creator Howard Overman so brilliantly demonstrated with Misfits and again here, he possesses a winning
Veteran director Chen Kaige hampered by bad editing and lackluster acting
Highly esteemed director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) spins an intriguing revenge yarn in his latest film but is undone by lousy editing and largely unimpressive acting. Scary general Tuan Gu is intent on overthrowing the ruling Zhao clan and assuming the throne for himself. To succeed, he stages a coup that results in the death of all Zhao family members except for the newborn son of the king. The court doctor, Cheng Ying, successfully smuggles the newborn out of the carnage and into his own home where his own wife has also recently given birth to a son. When
James Purefoy shines as the morally ambiguous lead character in this British crime procedural miniseries
Over the course of its five episodes, this miniseries very slowly reveals its true intention. What starts out as a simple murder mystery and ensuing legal trial gives way to an underlying tale of moral ambiguity due to its lead character, barrister Will Travers (James Purefoy). While the series is overlong for what it needs to accomplish, it’s an intriguing spin on the crime procedural formula. Travers lives with his family in the peaceful Suffolk countryside, having abandoned the stress of big-city London life in favor of a slower pace. When he is called upon to defend an old friend
Sparkling new restoration delivers an engaging audiovisual feast.
Even if you’ve seen this film before, you’ve never seen it like this. Boasting a complete restoration including a new 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack mixed by The Who’s longtime sound engineer directly from the original elements, the new Criterion edition dazzles on Blu-ray and almost certainly looks better than its original theatrical release. The original 2.0 stereo sound mix is also included for the purists. Of course all that technical wizardry would amount to naught if the movie was subpar, but that’s not the case here. The film brilliantly examines one young man’s angst against the larger backdrop of
Familiarity breeds contempt in this series that rehashes rather than innovates.
I’ve just returned from a dream world of magic populated by classic fairy tale characters experiencing modern angst. No, it’s not the movie Enchanted, and it’s not the long-running DC comic book series Fables, but this TV series borrows so liberally from those and other properties we’ve seen before that it should be titled Thrice Upon a Time. Throw in an ongoing flashback format generally focusing on one character each week that recalls the earlier LOST writing work of series “creators” Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, and you can virtually hear the hackneyed plot pitch they made that somehow got
Boring and uninspired buddy movie deals with impending death by mostly ignoring it.
"I'm 29 today. Won't see 30." With that opening line, Third Star clearly defines its theme and outcome, tracing the final days in the life of a terminally ill man. James (Benedict Cumberbatch) has declined so much that he’s confined to a wheelchair, but with his imminent demise looming he convinces his three closest friends to take him camping to his favorite place on Earth, a secluded bay near his home. What follows is a very loosely scripted trip that finds the mates hanging out, living and laughing together as they inch closer to their destination. The bay isn’t accessible
Documentary recounts the full life of a wolf raised by humans.
Wolves have traditionally been vilified as vicious, bloodthirsty predators not worthy of any human compassion. This documentary aims to influence that perception by recounting the complete life story of a wolf raised by humans and used as a goodwill ambassador in classrooms across the country. There’s no denying that the animals are dangerous, but at least in the case of the wolf named Koani, they’re worth a much closer look. As a pup, Koani was adopted by a married couple named Bruce and Pat, outdoorsy Montana folks who originally accepted her on a temporary basis while participating in a research
Better motion comic effects but a lesser story make for a fun if unastonishing hour of entertainment.
Continuing the Astonishing X-Men motion comics saga initiated in previous DVDs Gifted and Dangerous, this latest disc covers issues 13-18 of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s legendary comic book run. As before, the art from each original comic book issue has been converted into roughly 10 minutes of animation with a full vocal cast and sound effects. I wasn’t particularly fond of the animation in Dangerous, especially in the early stages, but the production team seems to have a better handle on the technical details here and delivers a compelling and entertaining final product. This time around, most of the
Three full performances of Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes chatting on stage in the UK.
Now that the London Olympics are over, it’s time to turn our attention to these other notable American heroes staking their claim in the UK. Capturing not one, not two, but three full live performances, this two-disc set follows the old men from London to Manchester to Edinburgh as they bring their inimitable brand of merriment across the pond. So what do you get at a Jay and Silent Bob show? Not much of substance, just two blokes riffing on stage for a little over an hour each night. They’re not in character, they’re just Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes.
Superpowered teens fully earn misfits label in this raunchy, occasionally hilarious series.
The review excerpt used as a marketing tagline on this series proclaims “Heroes with Buffy-esque snark”, which is a fair but not entirely accurate assessment. See, the Heroes and Scoobies were inherently good for the most part, and dedicated to using their powers to benefit mankind. These kids? Not so much. As five delinquents sentenced to tons of community service, they’re more interested in getting laid, getting high, and getting out of manual labor than they are with the well-being of their community. This British counterculture spin to the sci-fi concept suggests a different descriptor to me: like Skins meets
New lead Jeremy Renner delivers the goods, but his screenwriter/director doesn’t
A couple of things become clear early on in the new Bourne movie: Jeremy Renner is an excellent choice to carry on the legacy, but Tony Gilroy is not. Who is Tony Gilroy? Well, here he’s both writer and director, but in the original trilogy he was the screenwriter only. I imagine the discussions at Universal going down something like this: “We really want to continue the franchise, but Damon and Greengrass have both taken a pass. Now what do we do? Hey Tony, would you like to keep writing? What do you mean, only if you get to direct
Maverick director Aki Kaurismaki delivers a surreal, lighthearted take on a seemingly deadly serious immigration story
The setup for this film is straightforward: a poor aging French shoe-shiner helps a young African illegal immigrant evade capture by the police. However, what sounds like the basis for a political statement about immigration or a tear-jerker friendship between the unlikely pair is instead transformed into a surreal fable about the innate goodness of man as imagined by maverick Finnish writer/director Aki Kaurismaki. Recalling the fairy-tale trappings of fellow French-language films by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, such as Amelie and The City of Lost Children, Kaurismaki’s latest film is more given to flights of fancy and scenes of visual wonder
Documentary ace Morgan Spurlock misses the mark with this uninspired take on male grooming.
Morgan Spurlock continues his prolific output of documentary feature films with this look at modern male grooming. While the topic is ripe for both ridicule and in-depth study, he mostly squanders the opportunity this time around with this occasionally amusing but far from enlightening film. Spurlock surely knows by now that he’s the biggest draw for his films, and yet he mostly stays in the background here, aside from a shocking grooming episode that finds him driving his own son to tears when he shaves off his signature porn ‘stache. Executive producers Jason Bateman and Will Arnett actually get the
Lame script and near absence of Loretta Young make this purely a Power vehicle.
Tyrone Power and his frequent co-star Loretta Young team up once again in this tale that aims to inject some history and exotic locales into its matinee trappings. Power plays a dashing French diplomat named Ferdinand de Lesseps who gets dispatched to Egypt to take over his father’s role as consul general. Young plays his sweetie back home in France, a royal with the ungainly moniker Countess Eugenie de Montijo. Left unexplained is any screenwriting justification for the completely fictional romance between these two real characters. They get just a few brief moments together at the beginning of the film,
More than 20 years after its theatrical release, it’s just as alien and off-putting as ever.
Writer/director Whit Stillman’s debut film received massive critical accolades following its 1990 theatrical release, including a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination. Over two decades later, it’s back in a pristine new Criterion Blu-ray edition, but it’s just as bewildering as ever for viewers like me who fall outside the extremely narrow demographic of stuffy upper-crust New York debutantes. Here’s a film where college-age guys walk the streets of modern Manhattan in top hat and tails without any irony, ceaselessly discussing philosophy, literature, and other egg-headed items while waiting for their next social gathering with like-minded snobs. There’s no real narrative arc
Sequel nobody wanted proves to be just as hapless as its predecessor.
When you think back to the reimagined Clash of the Titans released two years ago, what memories come to mind? For me, the only lasting perceptions are that the huge Kraken monster was pretty cool, and the movie was largely panned, especially because of its lackluster 3D conversion. The film was a passable global hit at the box office, and yet there didn’t seem to be much clamor for a sequel. Well, clamor be damned, Hollywood followed the money and produced this unnecessary continuation of the Titans tales. Sam Worthington returns to the role of half-god/half-human Perseus, again working out
A charming romantic comedy starring Tyrone Power and Loretta Young
While I’m familiar with the name of leading man Tyrone Power, I realized before watching this film that I’m almost completely unfamiliar with his work. I have a feeling I’m not alone, as in our era he seems to be more noted as a legendary Hollywood star than actually known for any of his films. Thankfully, 20th Century Fox has set out to rectify this courtesy of their Cinema Archives project that manufactures DVD-Rs of niche catalog titles on demand. In Love is News, Power’s fast-talking newspaper reporter character Steve Leyton battles wits with a feisty heiress named Tony Gateson
Retiring star John Nettles is the best reason to watch these uninspired mysteries
Deep in the English countryside, there's a fictional county with an alarmingly high murder rate. Despite its fairly low population, the charming villages in the Midsomer area are rife with murders that require the expert crime-solving skills of veteran Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles). Unfortunately, after 13 seasons of catching bad guys, the DCI finally decides to retire in this last set of mysteries. It's not the end of the series, just the end of the Nettles run, but don't be concerned about the prominent position of his replacement on the cover because these episodes belong entirely to
LEGO Ninjago Masters of Spinjitzu Season One DVD Review: A Fun But Lightweight Extended Toy Commercial
Show serves as a marketing vehicle for successful Ninjago toy line but fails to serve as serious entertainment
Four pizza-loving teen ninjas battle the forces of evil under the tutelage of their wise old sensei. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Nope. LEGO has a hit new toy brand on their hands, but the tie-in cartoon suffers from its blatant swiping of the TMNT concept. The four teens even wear one different primary color per character and specialize in one weapon each, just like the Turtles. That’s not to say the show isn’t entertaining, but it’s difficult to get past its lack of originality. Early on, the series sets up a goal for the four primary stars: to become the
Director Hiroshi Inagaki and acting legend Toshiro Mifune combine to tell the epic story of folk hero Musashi Miyamoto.
Japanese screen legend Toshiro Mifune is most closely associated with the directorial efforts of fellow legend Akira Kurosawa, and yet he actually made more total films with lesser-known director Hiroshi Inagaki. The Samurai Trilogy represents three of the Mifune/Inagaki collaborations: Musashi Miyamoto, Duel at Ichijoji Temple, and Duel at Ganryu Island. Although the films were released separately over three years in the 1950s, they are each part of one continuing story about the life of the 17th-century swordsman Miyamoto, so in effect the trilogy is one epic five-hour movie. While the trilogy doesn’t get much attention in the U.S. today,
The American Pie gang reconvene to celebrate their 13th high school reunion.
The kids from American Pie are all physically adults now, but the guys are still as juvenile as ever. On the odd occasion of their 13th high school reunion, the whole crew reconvenes in their home town to prove…well, something, even if they don’t exactly know what it is. Maybe cultural relevance? Regardless, whatever excuse is foisted on the public to justify their reunion is soon a secondary issue as they get down to reconnecting with their friends and embarking on new exploits. It’s great fun to see the entire original cast together again, although perplexing that the female half
The good doctor and the rest of his neighbors in Portwenn continue to produce a charming show.
This show may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but its offbeat cast of characters continue to delight those willing to seek it out. Each episode finds the titular doctor (Martin Clunes) assisting a patient or two of the week, usually discovering the cause of their illness or heroically saving their lives by the end of the show. Outside that simple premise, the show explores the ongoing relationships of the fascinating locals, with special emphasis placed on the seemingly ill-suited romance between the grumpy doctor and the lovely and charming head schoolteacher, Louisa Glasson (Caroline Catz). The series is also
Fassbender shines in this murky mess.
Shame is one of those whiny, self-involved New Yorker tales that makes most normal folks cringe. It’s further hampered by a nearly non-existent and non-revelatory plot that leaves viewers with no better understanding of its characters at its conclusion than at its outset. That leaves only one legitimate reason to watch the film: star Michael Fassbender. No, I’m not referring to his much-ballyhooed full frontal work here, but rather his passionate acting performance. Fassbender plays a damaged sex addict named Brandon Sullivan, an apparently wealthy bachelor with a swanky Manhattan apartment and not much to do after working hours except
Sweden’s most famous fictional police investigator is back on the beat in this new film penned by his creator, Henning Mankell.
Believe it or not, Stieg Larsson didn’t corner the market on Swedish crime fiction with his Dragon Tattoo (aka Millenium) series. In fact, author Henning Mankell’s Wallander character has a much more storied and extensive bibliography and filmography. Now Wallander is venturing onto U.S. film screens in this premiere installment of his latest Swedish series. Even better, while much of the character’s previous filmed output has been based on Mankell’s original novels, here Mankell himself contributes an entirely new story exclusive to the screen. That story opens with a fantastic setup when the moderately sized town of Ystad, Sweden, is
Ingmar Bergman’s simple and predictable tale is highlighted by an ethereal middle third.
This early success from director Ingmar Bergman follows a completely straightforward and conventional path to its obvious conclusion, offering little hint of his later cinematic prowess. While a scholarly case could be made for the film’s secondary theme regarding socioeconomic conditions in mid-20th century Stockholm, Sweden, at its core the film is nothing more than a fleeting look at a doomed youthful romance. As such, its universal love theme transcends its era and location to remain accessible to modern viewers. A young lower-class couple named Harry and Monika impulsively decide to ditch their dreary lives and jobs in Stockholm to
Great performances by the two leads outweigh the questionable plot shift.
An esteemed English author named James Miller (William Shimell) has written a book on the value of copies versus original works of art. After presenting his theories at a lecture in Italy, he’s approached by an unnamed fan (Juliette Binoche) from the audience who gives him her address, and the next day they meet and take a drive to a local village. She remarks on her delight at being in his car and politely requests his autograph on a few copies of his book. While in the village, they discuss various works of art found in the area, while also
Benedict Cumberbatch is completely effective in the lead role of this modern take on the classic sleuth.
My keen powers of observation have allowed me to deduce that you’re thinking “Another Sherlock Holmes project? Enough already!” Sure, the Robert Downey Jr. movies and previous TV series and books and such have kept Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation firmly entrenched in public consciousness, and yet the current BBC series proves that there’s still plenty of life in the old property. Instead of just rehashing the old-timey sleuthing tales of Holmes and Watson for the millionth time, series creators Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) and Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen) updated the action to present-day London, with
Miyazaki doesn’t direct this time around, but you’ll never be able to tell the difference
Even when legendary animation director Hayao Miyazaki isn’t officially helming films for Studio Ghibli, his touch is so ingrained in their process that the results are instantly recognizable. From character designs to its plucky young female protagonist to the incredibly lush backgrounds celebrating the power of nature’s beauty, Ghibli’s latest work is a Miyazaki film in everything but the director’s name. The master serves as writer and producer this time around, while the directing duties are held by Ghibli loyalist Hiromasa Yonebashi, filling in quite nicely in an unenviable position. Arrietty is a “Borrower”, one of a race of tiny
Solid writing makes the show worth watching in spite of its dusty historical setting
This AMC series didn’t seem to get much attention during its first season, especially in comparison to the network’s critical darlings, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and ratings juggernaut The Walking Dead. It doesn’t help that the title conjures up images of something closer to Sons of Anarchy than its actual setting of the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Then there’s the pesky matter of its almost entirely exterior set location in Alberta attempting to stand in for Nebraska, roughly 1500 miles to the southeast. There’s no real draw to the talent on board, with the biggest names being
The 11th annual event provides exclusive free titles from across the full spectrum of comic books.
Free! Gratis! Absolutely no charge! Today marks the 11th annual nationwide Free Comic Book Day, a fantastic event that presents a wide variety of exclusive titles from all of the major comic book publishers. How do you get ‘em? Just visit your local comic book store and look for the free stuff! The free titles prominently display a uniform Free Comic Book Day logo on the cover, and most stores house them near their checkout counters. Although it might seem like the event is timed to coincide with the US theatrical release this weekend of Marvel’s The Avengers, it’s always held
Joss Whedon delivers an epic superhero team-up full of action and laughs.
After years of planning and audience baiting through individual Marvel superhero films, the massive Marvel team-up finally arrives in U.S. theaters tonight. Thankfully, the film delivers, offering a great team, sufficient focus on each individual, as well as a perfect and classic villain. It’s a true popcorn film, an unapologetic comic book movie that never forgets its origins, giving it broad appeal and a smattering of welcome, uncheesy humor thanks to director/co-writer Joss Whedon. The movie gets off to a bit of a shaky start, mostly due to some surprisingly wooden acting from Samuel Jackson, Scarlett Johanssen, and Cobie Smulders.
Alec Guinness fully inhabits the famed role of retired spy George Smiley in this 1979 BBC miniseries
Decades before last year’s theatrical adaptation, John le Carre’s classic espionage novel was the basis for this BBC TV miniseries. While a common complaint about the movie version was the rushed and confusing pace caused by compressing a complex novel into a couple of hours, the miniseries format allows the story to unfold over a leisurely six-hour timeframe. The miniseries also boasts the inspired casting of Alec Guinness in his BAFTA-winning lead role as George Smiley, a great match for the material. There’s something inherently more convincing about a Cold War story filmed in the waning days of the actual
Director Yasujiro Ozu paints a heartbreaking portrait of a modern woman trapped by tradition
Writer/director Yasujiro Ozu is widely regarded as one of the most important Japanese directors of all time, generally second only to Akira Kurosawa, and yet widely different in style. While Kurosawa’s most popular films have exciting, memorable plots, Ozu is a master of the quiet moments of family dynamics. That approach is on full display in this winning character study of a family in transition, both due to the aftereffects of World War II and the time for the adult daughter to leave the nest. While firmly rooted in the clash between traditional Japanese culture and the modern era of
The singular focus on polar nature wears thin, but the HD photography is spellbinding.
Following the huge worldwide success of their previous epic nature projects Planet Earth and Life, the BBC cameramen don their parkas this time around for animal adventures in the Northern and Southern polar regions. Like their predecessors, Frozen Planet features top-notch HD photography, sweeping orchestral soundtracks, and the soothing narration of BBC stalwart Sir David Attenborough, combining to provide the best possible home-video experience of our natural wonders. If you’ve seen the other shows, you’ll know exactly what to expect here and won’t be disappointed, although the limiting choice of subject matter and leisurely seven-episode length does eventually create some
Whedon proves to be a master in Marvel's mutant universe, but the motion effects are subpar in the early stages.
Before helming this summer’s Marvel team-up blockbuster film The Avengers, Joss Whedon earned his Marvel Comics bona fides in the pages of Astonishing X-Men. Abetted by John Cassaday’s stunning artwork, Whedon crafted 25 issues of mostly legendary tales that are slowly being converted into motion comic DVDs. This new DVD comprises Whedon’s second six-issue story arc, subtitled Dangerous, with each issue acting as the basis for a roughly 10-minute episode. When last we left the Astonishing crew, they were dealing with the unexpected rebirth of longtime teammate Colossus, along with the emergence of a supposed “mutant cure” that offered the
A fascinating look at a winning creative partnership predating Lean's later widescreen epics
Although best remembered for his widescreen epics such as Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, and The Bridge on the River Kwai, director David Lean launched his feature film career helming a series of fullscreen films written by Noel Coward. Those films have now been compiled in a spectacular new box set from Criterion, providing an engrossing survey of the results of their labors. While clearly not epic in scope, each of the films contain unique delights and are all well worth seeking out. In Which We Serve (1942) leads off the set and their feature film partnership, and also represents
A sampler of unrelated and unspectacular but offbeat Asian films.
This box set of fairly recent films takes a grab-bag approach, carrying no real unifying theme other than a focus on Asian actors and a production date sometime in the past 15 years. Oh, and current distribution through the same U.S. company of course. As such, there’s no discernible reason to pick up the set aside from a lower combined price point for films shoppers probably never would have combined. Still, for adventurous viewers looking for a collection of niche films well outside the mainstream of even these foreign film markets, the individual works clearly offer something offbeat, if not
A fascinating portrait of a caring man who refuses to be limited by his disability.
Wolfgang Fasser went blind in his early 20s, the victim of a rare genetic disease. "Victim" may be the wrong term though, as he treated the malady as nothing more than an inconvenience and refused to be limited by his reduced capacities. Rather than retreating into a life of solitude, he eventually opened a practice dedicated to helping developmentally challenged children connect with the world through music. His unconventional aural therapy may sound hokey, but is revealed to be extremely effective through this transcendent documentary. The film has no narration, descriptive text, or emotive soundtrack, instead allowing Fasser and his
The loopy ending still detracts from the rest of the fairly conventional film.
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, famed director Martin Scorsese sparked a firestorm of controversy via the release of this film. Religious zealots were outraged, theaters boycotted the film, and its notoriety far outweighed critical attempts to weigh in on its actual worth as a cinematic achievement. Thanks to the passage of time and Criterion’s sparkling new digital restoration, it’s now more possible to view the film based on its merits rather than its baggage. The film tracks the path of Jesus (Willem Dafoe) from his skeptical early adulthood to his self-assured death, with the story roughly following the
Slackers team up to save the world from an evil book of spells.
Just in time for tonight’s Second Season premiere on FEARnet, the complete First Season DVD box set is now available. Never heard of the show or FEARnet? Me either! However, thanks to a lingering fascination about how long-time Kevin Smith cohort Jason Mewes somehow manages to maintain a career in showbiz, I took the plunge into this high school horror comedy series. Todd is a slacker with dreams of heavy metal stardom, but no real talent to achieve them. When he crosses paths with a magical book at his high school, he intones a spell from its pages and becomes
Louis Malle’s final film captures a performance that was never intended to be public
Seemingly random individuals are filmed roaming the streets of New York’s Broadway area before separately converging on a dilapidated theater. Inside, they converse casually with each other before launching into a performance for a handful of invited guests. At first, it’s not even clear that a play has started, as there’s no curtain, stage lighting, or even discernible shift from the casual conversation into scripted play. Thus begins director Louis Malle’s film of theater director Andre Gregory’s informal staging of David Mamet’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s play, Uncle Vanya. Got all that? Gregory’s novel approach to the project was to
Plenty of action, but not much in the way of story or character development.
DC's latest animated movie pits its greatest superheroes against some of their most dangerous foes, meaning it's light on plot and character development but heavy on the Boom! Pow! Smash! It's based on a JLA comic book arc from 2000 called "Tower of Babel", a story which hinged on Batman's self-imposed role as a failsafe against the rest of his team should they ever turn evil. Unfortunately, his detailed plans on how to incapacitate the heroes fall into the hands of a criminal mastermind, in the film's case Vandal Savage, who in turn utilizes those plans to recruit a new
While the plot is obvious, the film's cerebral take on sci fi and impressive '70s cinematography make it well worth its lengthy running time.
Two business colleagues at a supercomputer research facility are enjoying a pleasant conversation before one of them declares that he knows a secret that would destroy the world. He then proceeds to excuse himself, exits the room, and shortly turns up dead elsewhere in the facility. What follows is a cerebral, tense sci-fi drama about virtual reality seemingly decades ahead of its time. While it's almost immediately obvious that the workers at the lab are themselves computer simulations being monitored by actual humans a level of consciousness above, the story carries so much philosophical weight augmented by groovy '70s cinematography
A funny return to form for this generation's Cheech and Chong.
Harold and Kumar aren't the ideal characters one would envision for a frothy Christmas movie or a senses-shattering 3D experience, but as it turns out they're just the counter-programming the season and the 3D format need. The new film plays up their odd couple relationship to the extremes, with Harold now a conservative, happily married Wall Street exec and Kumar a poor, disheveled pothead one missed paycheck from eviction. Ok, so not much has changed for Kumar, except for his girlfriend's revelation that they have a baby on the way. Harold has embraced his serene suburban life to such an
A serviceable samurai yarn spotlighted by a rewarding underdog story and above average fight scenes.
When peasants stage an uprising against their greedy local magistrate, they find an unlikely ally in the form of a drifter samurai. He's not all that invested in their rebellion, but chooses to side with them primarily because he spent a night lodging under the same roof with them. In addition to the samurai, the peasants hold a very valuable trump card in the form of the magistrate's hostage daughter, guaranteeing that the magistrate hears and responds to their demands for lower taxes. Unfortunately, his response is a heavily armed incursion against the peasants, spelling almost certain doom for them
Schaeffer revisits his character from 15 years ago and develops another ill-fated romance.
A lonely writer wanders around the streets of Paris before stumbling into an exciting new romantic relationship that reinvigorates his soul while the weight of his normal life concurrently drags him down. Sounds like Midnight in Paris? Well, I failed to mention that the writer and his new lover are both into S&M, pushing this well outside of Woody Allen territory. Don't let the deviant trappings give you the idea that this is just some exploitation skin flick, as its creator has crafted a moving love story and two well-developed lead characters that elevate the film well above its baser
A luminous young Catherine Deneuve crafts a memorable portrait of a bored, rich housewife exploring her dangerous proclivities.
A young, wealthy housewife goes for a horse-drawn carriage ride in the idyllic French countryside with her dashing husband. So far so good, but when the carriage stops, the two drivers follow the direction of the husband to bind and whip her before having their way with her while he coolly looks on. What in the world? As the scene dissolves, we find the housewife safely at home and conversing with her polite and refined husband, slyly telling him she was just thinking of him. We quickly learn that Severine the housewife (a luminous young Catherine Deneuve) is bored, trapped,
The kids put on an entertaining show but are hampered by fan interviews interspersed between songs
The Glee concert film captures a moment in time of a pop-culture phenomenon that had already started its slow march to obscurity by the time of its production. As such, it's really more a love letter to the show's dwindling fans than a viable mass-market charmer, and its middling box office receipts reflected that unfortunate fact. Still, the performances are spirited and fun for the most part, making for a mostly entertaining concert experience. On the downside, the filmmakers chose to incorporate footage of fan segments in between the songs, so every time the show builds a bit of momentum
Jam-packed with more than enough visual artistry to compensate for its lightweight story.
Iconic director Seijun Suzuki's film isn't very impressive from a story standpoint, but is packed with wall-to-colorful-wall visual flair. It's '60s Japanese pop culture in all its glory, arising from a pop song of the time, featuring a lead performance by a studio-mandated pop idol, and most importantly completely awash in Suzuki's vibrant and imaginatively staged scenes that giddily favor flash over logic. Ostensibly a yakuza action drama, the film follows a talented and supposedly reformed hitman named "Phoenix" Tetsu as he drifts around Tokyo in an attempt to avoid death at the hands of rival gangs. His yakuza boss,
The choreography and music dazzle in HD, but the story still falls flat
For a 50-year-old, this film still has great legs. It's certainly not without its shortcomings, but this new HD remaster shows off the original material to maximum impact with pristine, vibrant image quality and a new 7.1 DTS-HD soundtrack. The bonus features don't go much beyond what was previously available on DVD, but completists will appreciate the newest interview footage included here. The story is an update of Romeo and Juliet, transposing the action to the mean streets of mid-20th century New York where rival gangs face off against each other in racially-charged encounters on the pavement and the dance
A richly illustrated full-length film based on the Nintendo DS puzzle game series.
Professor Layton's Nintendo DS puzzle-game series introduced the characters carried over to this all-new feature-length anime movie. The games don't succeed just because of the varied puzzles in them, but because of the beautifully animated sequences tying them together into imaginative stories. Thankfully, the film's creators realized the rich vein to tap here for a full movie, maintaining the high animation and vocal talent standards of the games and spinning them into an entirely new tale. While the established fan base for this film is admittedly miniscule, consisting primarily of the puzzle game fans and otaku who have played the
While the film is somewhat bloated and slow, its accompanying documentary is revelatory
As a newcomer to Fanny & Alexander, I was surprised to learn that the original format of the project was a four-part TV miniseries spanning over five hours. That series was subsequently edited down to a still-massive three-hour movie for worldwide theatrical presentation, which is the version most recognized by U.S. audiences. Criterion's new Blu-ray box set contains both versions of the project, with one disc for each version, along with a third disc containing supplemental material highlighted by a feature-length documentary filmed concurrent with the feature production. Famed director Ingmar Bergman intended this project to be his final feature,
Surprisingly faithful to the source material but hampered by lackluster casting and mediocre direction.
After languishing in development hell for nearly 40 years, the film adaptation of author Ayn Rand's magnum opus finally reached the big screen earlier this year with a resounding thud. That's due in no small part to the lack of star power in front of and behind the lens, as well as independent financing by industry outsider John Aglialoro, and yet as it turns out the final product isn't nearly as bad as its meager box office and talent might indicate. Make no mistake: the film is by no means a classic, and yet its surprisingly faithful and effective script
Sparkling new Blu-ray release with newly discovered deleted scenes proves you can go home again.
In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Blue Velvet is being released in a feature-packed Blu-ray edition highlighted by the inclusion of nearly an hour of deleted scenes. That footage hasn't been edited back into the film, instead existing solely as a bonus feature, but it's still intriguing to see the added perspective it offers. Writer/director David Lynch revisits his recurring theme of the dark underbelly of bucolic suburbia, spinning a tale of a plucky and inquisitive college student named Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) who stumbles across a severed human ear and sets out to learn who severed it. He's joined by
Pixar's first misstep fails to capture the heart of the original
After over 15 years of unparalleled critical and commercial feature film success, it was inevitable that Pixar would hit a wall, but unfortunate that it took the destruction of their previously-enjoyable Carsniverse to do so. Offering none of the heart and barely any characters of the original, Cars 2 sends its top stars Lightning McQueen and Mater on an ill-advised spy trek/world grand prix far away from the cozy confines of Radiator Springs. How did this seem like a good idea to the notoriously story-centric Pixar brain trust? The only logical explanation is merchandising, as the film offers up a
So similar to the original comic book it might as well be a motion comic.
Twenty-five years ago, DC Comics opted to reboot the Batman mythos in an attempt to expand his origin story and base the character in a gritty realism rather than the cartoony foolishness it had drifted into through the years. They picked Frank Miller for the writing task, fresh off his success with The Dark Knight Returns, and he teamed up with artist David Mazzucchelli to craft four pivotal issues in the regular Batman comic book series under the banner Batman: Year One. Flash forward to this week's release of Warner Bros. Animation's newest feature of the same title, an extremely
Creates some spooky atmosphere but fails to drive a compelling narrative.
Although classified as a horror film, Kuroneko isn't very scary. Instead, it delivers atmosphere and oddities, making it more akin to David Lynch than John Carpenter. It also makes a couple of very abrupt and unexpected scene changes that may challenge viewers to follow the through line of the plot. With middling acting throughout and suspect cinematography in the opening stages, the film is far from essential viewing but offers something outside the norm. As the film opens, a large group of disheveled samurai-era Japanese men emerge from a forest and enter a quaint hut, where they find two women
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Blu-ray Review: Few Pirates, No Caribbean, But Still Fun
Jack Sparrow's fourth outing isn't his best, but it is leagues better than the previous one
After Captain Jack Sparrow's confusing and overblown third outing nearly sank the entire Pirates franchise, there was a palpable sense of "one too many" in the air upon the release of On Stranger Tides. It didn't help that Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer had the audacity to saddle the project with director Rob Marshall, most famous for helming musicals. Musicals + pirates = stranger tides indeed. Pirates of Penzance, anyone? Thankfully, Marshall's touch is barely noticeable, and the plot is linear and logical enough to actually make sense for its entire length, helping this voyage turn out rather pleasant for
A masterful indictment of the morally bankrupt samurai system.
When a bedraggled masterless samurai, or ronin, approaches the estate of a large warrior clan and asks for permission to kill himself in their courtyard, he triggers a surprising face-off that reveals the depravity of the highly regimented samurai code. His initial request is met not with outright refusal or approval but instead with a story about another previous ronin who had made the exact same request. The clan suspected that ronin of graft, as many other clans around the nation typically extended employment or at least handouts to ronin appearing at their gates. The film dissolves to flashback to
Has its charming moments, but fails to develop into a meaningful whole
High school alienation isn't new subject matter for films, but Terri takes alienation to the extreme with its focus on an obese, socially awkward teen (Jacob Wysocki) so far out on the fringe that he wears pajamas to school every day with impunity. Not just pajama pants, but head to toe old man pajamas. Recognizing someone in need of a lifeline, caring principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) begins scheduling weekly meeting with Terri to get to know him better and hopefully bring him out of his shell. Unfortunately, Mr. Fitzgerald also does this with a handful of other oddball
So similar to Mesrine in content and execution that there's little to distinguish it
Angel of Evil is a gripping study of a career criminal as he robs banks, escapes prisons, and breaks hearts throughout the 1970s, becoming something of a folk hero to his nation. If that sounds familiar, it's because the film's subject matter and execution is nearly identical to the two-part French film Mesrine. Both are based on true crime stories, both feature commanding lead performances requiring their actors to portray the charming criminals aging over a couple of decades, leaving language as the biggest difference between the two. If you've already seen Mesrine, you'll surely suffer some serious déjà vu
Crime and punishment in a beachside paradise.
Goa. Just the name conjures up images of sunkissed Indian beachside bliss for electronic dance music fans around the world, but as we learn in this gripping thriller there's also a criminal underworld at play. That crime element is largely fueled by the drug trade, because those international party people on the beach aren't just high on life. When an innocent college-bound youth gets enlisted as a drug mule, a fiery policeman crosses his path and triggers a war with the local crime kingpin. The subject matter is a nice departure from the Bollywood norm of overblown romantic musicals, but
Well-crafted effects and a timeless tale make for a fine Swedish silent film
I don't spend much time watching silent films, especially foreign silent films, but The Phantom Carriage has me rethinking that stance. Made over 90 years ago by Swedish master Victor Sjostrom, the film is just as relevant and striking today as it must have been for the filmgoers of its time. It's quite easy to see how Sjostrom became a major influence on Swedish great Ingmar Bergman, with the devotion going so deep that Bergman featured Sjostrom as an actor in his films, most notably in Wild Strawberries. As the film opens, we meet the young Sister Edit of the
If you're still on the fence about the Blu-ray collection, these may be the comics you're looking for
The comic book adaptations of all six Star Wars films are fairly straightforward and faithful for the most part, but there's a disturbance in the Force when it comes to A New Hope. Much like the current retooled incarnation of its film, the comic book includes Lucas-friendly, fan-despised deviations from the original film such as Greedo shooting at Han Solo first in their Mos Eisley cantina encounter and Solo's scene with a mobile Jabba the Hutt in the spaceport. That's entirely due to the production timeframe of the book. While Empire is derived from the Marvel Comics series run during
Brash young director Wuershan fails to impress with his modern take on martial arts cinema
I was hoping for some originality in this film, a fresh take on martial arts period drama. It boasts a young director colorfully named Wuershan, so I figured anyone audacious enough to go by one odd name in the fairly rigid Chinese film industry was bound to bring some flair to the table. Sure enough, it's unlike anything else in the genre, with a non-stop assault on the senses punctuated by quick cuts, a hip modern soundtrack, and even an animated segment, but unfortunately our young director treated plot like a second-class citizen and populated his tale with such a
A hilarious star-making turn for writer/lead actress Kristen Wiig
Don't let the title and picture fool you: this movie is all about Kristen Wiig. Sure, there's an ensemble cast and a story about a wedding, but the core of the film is bridesmaid Annie's (Wiig) voyage of self-discovery as she hits rock bottom and learns what's most important in her life. If that sounds like a Lifetime movie, further enforcing the chick-flick appeal of the film, rest assured that Annie's journey is packed with side-splitting humor with broad appeal to both sexes. Annie is a bit of a sad sack loser, with little more to show for her 30-something
Charming songs and a promising start can't overcome bloated and meandering road trip
An Australian musical with singing Aborigines, hippies and priests? What could go wrong? While the film clearly falls into the category of "something you don't see every day", its originality can't overcome its amateurish production and poorly conceived plot. Geoffrey Rush is the only recognizable acting talent involved, and while it's admirable that he's supporting his native films, even his contribution as a schoolmaster priest ends up being more of an embarrassment than a high point in his lengthy career. Regrettably, the best aspect is a couple of charming songs that may linger long after the rest of this lackluster
A mind-blowing trip through a bizarre afterlife filled with fetish gear and nightmarish creatures.
GANTZ is based on a manga and anime series of the same name, and yet it's perfectly fine and possibly preferable to approach the film with no advance knowledge of its mind-blowing tale. Unlike most recent Japanese genre films, it also has high production values and competent direction that contribute to a polished, professional final product. Its only real drawback is its two-hour length, as it succumbs to the far too typical Japanese approach of prolonged, slow stretches that grind the action to a virtual standstill for no apparent benefit. At a half hour shorter, it could have been an
An accomplished film that upholds and expands the tradition of the original.
One of the most questionable actions of the Eisner/Katzenberg era at Disney was the decision to launch a series of direct-to-video sequels to their hallowed animated film classics. For the most part, those sequels were forgettable and barely a shadow of their origin films, with poor artistry, weak stories, and music. Seemingly no reason for existence other than extracting a few more dollars from the parents of the youngest and most devoted fans. However, magic managed to strike a few times, perhaps nowhere as successfully as Bambi II. Picking up during Bambi's childhood (aka his cute years), the "midquel" tracks
Actress Do-Yeon Jeon delivers a powerhouse performance in director Chang-Dong Lee's moving drama.
After an interminable four-year delay, Secret Sunshine has finally reached U.S. shores thanks to the fine folks at Criterion. The South Korean film garnered international acclaim at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival (Palme d'Or nominee and Best Actress winner) but then vanished with barely a trace here, apparently failing to secure domestic U.S. video distribution until now. Thankfully, it was well worth the wait and so timeless that it could have remained in the vault for decades without losing any of its power. That's thanks primarily to a knockout performance by lead actress Do-Yeon Jeon, ably abetted by writer/director Chang-Dong
A competent heist film that provides an early glimpse of Kubrick's emerging talent
The Killing is a fine little film on its own, and yet I couldn't help but compare it unfavorably to writer/director Stanley Kubrick's later triumphs. It's also a bit deceptively titled, as what one might naturally expect to be a murder mystery is instead a detailed heist drama seen from the various perspectives of its participants. With no major stars and a fairly conventional, albeit imaginatively time-shuffled plot, it's mostly interesting now as a pleasant diversion and a glimpse of Kubrick's early development. The story focuses on a group of crooks as they plan a massive heist at a racetrack.
Marriage of feature film with direct-to-video sequel is worthwhile thanks to the decent quality of both projects
Disney's mining of their vaults takes a new turn this month with this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that includes both the original theatrical feature along with its direct-to-video sequel. They've tried a couple of these two-fer Blu-ray packages with theatrical releases in the past year, specifically Tron/Tron Legacy and Fantasia/Fantasia 2000, but to my knowledge this is the first Blu-ray combo of theatrical and direct-to-video content. It's not the last though, as The Lion King release on the horizon will have an option to purchase as a bundle with its two video sequels. That's great for hardcore fans who want every
Director Simon Wells fails to translate the charm of the source book to film.
The news that Berkeley Breathed's touching children's book was being adapted to film was met with excitement in my household, until it was revealed that the film would follow the horrendous Robert Zemeckis model of CG animation via motion capture. As it turns out, that mo-cap approach isn't the worst thing about this lousy film, but it's one culprit on a long list. Milo (Seth Green) is an average Earth boy living with a harried single mom and generally failing to appreciate the effort she puts forth for him. After a heated argument one night, Milo realizes the error of
Controversy threatens to derail theatrical debut tomorrow night
America's largest dance music festival has been under fire for the last year after massive fallout from the 2010 edition captured in this film. A teenage girl's drug-related death at that show led to a firestorm of publicity that later exposed financial corruption among the LA Coliseum officials who had allowed the event to take place there for many years, forcing the event's move to Las Vegas this year. Then when this documentary premiered to an invitation-only audience in Hollywood last week, hundreds of uninvited guests showed up in response to an ill-advised tweet from featured DJ Kaskade and forced
Director Carlos Saldanha mines his native Brazil for audiovisual gold, enriching Rio's lifeless plot.
Rio works its Brazilian setting to its advantage, with an explosion of sights and sounds demonstrating the care native son director Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age series) put into sharing the best of his homeland. Regrettably, the same care was not extended to the story, with a lifeless and wholly predictable slog about finding one's true self that fails to match the soaring heights of its visuals and music. The film was also clearly geared to capitalize on the 3D craze, making its current 2D home presentation feel a bit lacking during the chaotic action sequences. However, there are more than
Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune team for another classic film.
Master director Akira Kurosawa and his acting muse Toshiro Mifune teamed up once again for this kidnapping drama set in the modern times of its 1960s production, a departure from their most well-known period dramas Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. Mifune plays a wealthy businessman named Kingo Gondo, a captain of industry on the verge of the biggest business move of his career. He has been quietly amassing control of the major shoe company he works for, putting into place intricate financing that requires precise timing in order to pull off his coup without losing his riches. If it was a
Todd Solondz revisits his characters from Happiness (1998)
Writer/director Todd Solondz has forged a cottage industry out of exploring the foibles of odd suburban characters, popping in every few years with another unconventional tale from the dark recesses of his unusual mind. For his latest excursion, he decided to revisit the characters from his 1998 film Happiness, but recast the roles with an entirely different set of actors. The recasting idea also recalls his 2004 film Palindromes, where the lead role was shared by eight different actors/actresses who had no similar physical characteristics. In his latest work, characters struggle to find love and acceptance while battling their own
Lee + Korean revenge flick = unlikely bedfellows
As reported in Variety earlier today, Spike Lee has officially signed on to direct the long-gestating U.S. remake of the 2003 South Korean revenge thriller, Oldboy. Frankly, there’s no reason to remake the near-perfect original, but since U.S. studios completely lack originality and will probably make this someday, let’s discuss this attempt a bit. The original film was based on a lengthy Japanese manga series but diverged enough from its source material and had such a strong directorial voice that it eclipsed its origin, winning fans around the world for both director Chan-wook Park and star Min-sik Choi, and to a lesser extent
A moving rumination on the fading opulence of a broken man and his estate
Right from the opening shot of this film, it's evident that viewers are witnessing the work of a masterful director. The film opens with a prolonged silent close-up of a forlorn, world-weary Indian man, immediately informing without dialogue that he has been through some terrible life-altering tragedy and has largely retreated from his community. As the camera moves back to a wider shot, we find him occupying an ornate but run-down palatial estate, seemingly not caring about the decay around him as he stares off into space. An elderly servant approaches and offers refreshment, further reinforcing the impression that he
The stunts are great, but can't counteract the terrible dialogue and cartoony world
If The Warrior's Way was judged solely on the merits of its inventive, creatively filmed stuntwork, it would be one of the coolest movies of the year. Unfortunately, the characters talk when they're not fighting, and that's where this train runs well off the tracks. This is the story of a ninja-ish swordsman (Dong-gun Jang) named Yang, the greatest swordsman who ever lived, who betrays his clan by failing to complete his assassination mission against their rivals when he decides to spare the life of the last remaining survivor, a darling baby girl. As a result, he leaves his assassin
Worth watching for a look at life in 1920s Berlin, but not much story.
People on Sunday is a fascinating historical document of late 1920s Germany, offering a glimpse into the fashion, architecture, and customs of the time. It's also notable for the key group of young German creative personnel behind the camera, especially the legendary Billy Wilder, future director of such Hollywood classics as Sunset Blvd., Sabrina, and Some Like It Hot. Fellow members of the group included noir masters Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer and Oscar winner Fred Zinnemann. Their involvement makes the film worth seeking out for a look at their early creative process, although the final product is fairly rough
The trolls are scary and fun, but the trip to get to them is fraught with boredom.
TrollHunter has been building some international buzz since its debut in its native Norway last year, apparently due to the novel concept of normal humans discovering that trolls are terrifyingly real. Well, that and its Norwegian origin. Seriously, can you name one other Norwegian film you've ever seen or you've ever had the opportunity to screen in a U.S. theater? As it turns out, that unique local flavor is really the only thing it has going for it, as its story is definitely nothing special. The movie utilizes the "found footage" concept beaten to death in the wake of The
Beautiful kimonos and decent acting, but not much else to recommend
Director Kon Ichikawa's late career work centers on the relationships between four adult sisters as they run their family kimono business in the days before the Pacific War. The two eldest sisters have been married for some time, while the youngest sister chafes about the tradition that dictates that she can't marry until their other shy, conservative sister finds a husband. So in short, it's about girls talking to each other. And talking. And talking. It's something like a precursor to The Joy Luck Club, except that this project is even more insular and claustrophobic in its tight focus on
Elephant's tale is worthwhile, but her humans breed skepticism
I initially hesitated to cover this film, primarily because I expected a tear-jerker documentary that would use one elephant's tale to play on viewer emotions while condemning the ongoing use of elephants in circuses and zoos. Thankfully, that wasn't really the objective here, as the production team wisely kept a narrow focus on their star elephant's perilous but triumphant transition from circus performer to retiree. Unfortunately, Flora the elephant's tale is solely recounted by her primary caregivers, odd people who spend the entirety of their screen time anthropomorphizing Flora's every move, theorizing on what she's feeling and attempting to apply
Director and stars fumble badly, but co-star Teresa Palmer shines.
Proving that its middling box office performance was no fluke, I Am Number Four arrives on home video this week with very little to recommend. Based on a young adult novel and featuring a script by TV vets Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (Smallville) along with Marti Noxon (Buffy, Angel), the film predictably carries all the weight of an episode of any of the CW network's teen-centric series. It doesn't get any help from its director or leads either, with D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) failing to elevate the project above its tired high school clichés and stars Alex Pettyfer (Beastly) and
Not a classic, but worthwhile and sweet family entertainment
Somewhere there's a big Random Idea Generator that spit out a doozy for this film, uniting three things that have absolutely nothing in common: Shakespeare, ceramic garden gnomes, and Elton John. Surprisingly, the results of this bizarre collaboration are mostly successful, making for some heartwarming animated family entertainment that measures up fairly well to the big guys at Pixar and Dreamworks. That's not to say it's must-see viewing, but it is definitely an unexpected surprise. Borrowing the same conceit as the Toy Story films, the ceramic stars of the film are sentient but can only talk and move about freely
An unforgettable revenge thriller.
There’s a clear point part way through this French classic where it drops its conventional nature and morphs into an unforgettable revenge thriller. That point is illustrated on Criterion’s cover artwork for their new DVD and Blu-ray release, with a man’s head forcibly held underwater. It’s completely understandable how the film reaches that event, but a surprising thrill ride as its aftermath plays out. The head belongs to a sleazy cad named Michel (Paul Meurisse), a womanizer seemingly out of place in his occupation as co-owner of a respectable boarding school. The hand belongs to his mistress, Nicole (Simone Signoret),
Cool couple chase illicit thrills in 1960s Tokyo
Although this is a Japanese film, the words that immediately come to mind to describe it are largely French: a classic film noir with an avant garde soundtrack and co-starring an ethereal ingénue. Add one Japanese word to the mix, for its dramatic tale centered in Tokyo's criminal underworld hews closely to the gekiga school of manga. Now thanks to Criterion, Pale Flower is available in a fantastic new Blu-ray release that further enhances this film's legacy and its surrounding era. The story focuses on a veteran yakuza thug named Muraki (Ryo Ikebe) emerging from prison after a three year
You'd be an idiot to miss it.
Despite its unfortunate title and cover art, 3 Idiots is a refreshingly original and accomplished film. That's thanks in no small part to its concept, but the factor that really elevates it above the norm is the lead performance by veteran Bollywood star Aamir Khan. He's had some exposure to U.S. theatrical audiences in the past as the lead in the Oscar-nominated epic Lagaan a decade ago, but here he proves to be even more charismatic and impressive in his role, fully supporting his wide regard as India 's finest actor. Khan plays an unusual engineering student named Rancho who
Espionage thriller contains the deeper story of a father's love of family and country.
Although it's being marketed as an espionage thriller and has its fair share of tension-filled moments, Farewell also explores the motivation of its Russian traitor, painting a sympathetic portrayal of a man more interested in creating a better nation for his son than protecting his own life. In 1981, an aging KGB colonel named Sergei Gregoriev (Emir Kusturica) crosses paths with a lowly French engineer working in Russia named Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet), passing him top-secret documents that name Soviet agents deployed in the U.S. and in the process hastening the end of the Cold War. Gregoriev doesn't act out
A rewarding experience in the hands of this master director.
At first glance, Le Cercle Rouge seems like a fairly conventional crime drama, a perception that is upheld by the statements of its director and assistant director in Criterion's enlightening bonus features. However, famed French director Jean-Pierre Melville somehow synthesizes cinematic magic out of his simple tale, displaying a mastery of mise en scéne that leaves the film's carefully composed images burned in memory long after the story fades. That story focuses on a dapper master thief named Corey (Alain Delon), recently paroled from prison and on the prowl for some new criminal activity. When he crosses paths with escaped
Some intriguing covers, but unnecessarily extended.
Zach Snyder's latest directorial effort has had a heavy marketing effort touting its impressive visuals in advance of its theatrical release this week, but far less publicized is the film's intriguing soundtrack. It's not an orchestral score, it's not a collection of new radio-friendly songs, and it's not even an array of classic artist recordings. Instead, it's reimagined and extended cover versions of familiar songs originally performed by artists that most sane people wouldn't dare to cover, including Roxy Music, The Pixies, and The Smiths. The songs were apparently selected for their lyrical relevancy to the project, but listeners
Worthwhile for its lead performances and continuing improvement of Arnold, but difficult to recommend as essential viewing.
British writer/director Andrea Arnold won the 2009 Cannes Jury Prize and 2010 BAFTA (Outstanding British Film) for this gritty coming-of-age drama, following up her same Cannes honors in 2006 for her only previous feature film, Red Road. She also landed an Oscar in 2005 for her short film Wasp, which travels some of the same thematic ground as Fish Tank. So clearly she has the attention of critics, but this new Criterion release is her best opportunity to date for any meaningful US viewership. Thankfully, the package functions as something of an Arnold primer, including not only the feature film
An ode to Fellini's childhood in a quaint Italian town in the 1930s.
Federico Fellini's films are widely perceived as an acquired taste, with their odd flights of fancy, peculiar characters and avoidance of normal narrative structure. As such, they can be a daunting proposition for even the snobbiest of viewers, but I opted to take the plunge with this Oscar-winning later work in his filmography thanks to Criterion's stunning new Blu-ray release. Although Fellini reportedly offered conflicting accounts of its origin and basis in fact, Amarcord is evidently an ode to his own childhood in a quaint Italian town in the 1930s. Rather than follow one character however, the film presents
An emotional punch that extends far beyond the actions occurring in the film.
In the aftermath of his own mother's death, director Hirokazu Kore-eda crafted his most personal film to date, a quiet meditation on family dynamics. There's virtually no plot, just an examination of the simple nuances and evolving relationships at play in the structure of an average Japanese family. Instead of grand statements, the film speaks volumes through seemingly minor and wordless occurrences such as cooking rituals, walks in the neighborhood, or children attempting to reach lofty tree blossoms. These carefully selected touches give the film an incredibly strong sense of realism and clearly acted as a form of catharsis for
A winning combination of its many fine components.
J (newcomer James Frecheville) is an 18-year-old boy thrust into the midst of his criminal extended family when his mom ODs and dies. Mom had shielded the boy from her sketchy mother and brothers, but with nowhere left to turn young J reaches out to his grandma, colorfully nicknamed Smurf (Jacki Weaver). Smurf welcomes him into her home with open arms and he sets about integrating himself into his extended family while also attempting to keep his shady uncles at arm's length. When one of his uncles is unlawfully gunned down by cops, his other uncles recruit him in
I just got around to checking out this morning's Oscar nominees, here are my initial reactions: Best Picture - I'm already tired of ten nominees, can't we just go back to five? We all know only five are actually award-worthy anyway. For the rest, enjoy using your Best Picture Nomination in your future marketing materials. Full disclosure: I've only seen a few of these so far, but it's still abundantly clear who the contenders really are based on reviews, talent, and marketing campaigns. Black Swan - top 5 The Fighter - top 5, but on the borderline Inception -
So bland and predictable that it seemingly could have directed itself.
This film tracing the true story of one of the most famous racehorses of all time is so bland and predictable that it seemingly could have directed itself. On one hand, that's fine because anyone with any interest in the film will likely get exactly what they bargained for, but on the other it makes for a largely meaningless foray into the most pedestrian tropes of biographical films. Of course there's no surprise about how the story turns out, but the makers surely could have injected some creativity into its telling. Instead, we're left with languorous shots of rolling