What have I watched lately?
What have I enjoyed lately?
What should you rent? What should you buy?
And most importantly, what should you avoid?
Welcome To My Queue…
Sony / Released January 31, 2012
My favorite film of the year, Drive plays out as essentially a modern urban reinterpretation of Shane. Ryan Gosling plays Driver, a professional stuntman and mechanic moonlights as a getaway driver for hire, who gets himself involved with a single mother (Carrie Mulligan), her paroled husband (Oscar Issac) and a pair of crooked businessmen (played with charm and menace by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). Bryan Cranston is also fantastic as Shannon, Gosling’s mentor and business-sense challenged friend. Drive is striking as it features long moments of quiet and introspection as well as some moments of extreme startlingly violence. Picture and sound is flawless and extras include featurettes and an interview with director Nicholas Winding Refn. Highest recommendation.
No other filmmaker mayhem and chaos look as attractive as Michael Bay does. His Transformers trilogy might be silly and ridiculous, but Bay is in on the joke. This limited edition 7 disc set includes the entire trilogy on Blu-ray, a disc of extras for each film, and the third film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is included in four formats: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and digital download. The extras are as comprehensive as your imagination would allow and includes commentary on the first two films, dozens of featurettes, trailers and more. Also included (for the collector’s), is a plaque of the movie “signed” by Bay. Both visual and audio contained within are of reference quality and if you are the kind of person that likes robots that turn into vehicles and smash the crap out of each other (like me), this set is a must have.
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Next Level
Paramount / Released January 31, 2012
This Blu-ray “sampler” disc includes four episodes of The Next Generation series in HD for the first time. The episodes included are the two part pilot “Encounter at Far Point”, ““Sins Of The Father” and “The Inner Light” and despite vast improvements to picture, sound and visual effects, revisiting these episodes for the first time in well over a decade was a sore reminder of how dated the series’ content has become. Unlike the Original Series (which I adore and despite it’s silliness at times, is timeless), TNG feels like a bad attempt to be “futuristic” (especially in the pilot, with lots of spandex and a male crew member in a mini-skirt). For fans who can’t wait for the upcoming first season release, this sampler might whet the appetite, but personally, serves as a worthwhile investment if you’re on the fence on collecting the series to see if it still captures your attention. As for me, I’m skipping it and recommending it for curious parties only.
Universal / February 21, 2012
Despite providing a mild recommendation when I saw this theatrically, I was pleasantly surprised how much more I enjoyed it revisiting it at home The plot is pretty basic, Alan Alda plays a swarmy Wall Street swindling billionaire who gets caught after stealing millions of dollars, including the pensions of the blue collar employees of his top dollar New York apartment building who unite to steal back his hidden fortune to make things right. An unskilled and blue collar Ocean’s Eleven.
But it’s the chemistry of the cast including Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alda, Téa Leoni, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe, Judd Hirsch and the film’s secret weapon, the extremely funny and droll Matthew Broderick that truly elevates the material. Extras include alternate endings, deleted/alternate scenes, a gag reel, video diary, featurette and commentary. Tower Heist is charming and light and a truly entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. Recommended.
A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas
Warner Home Video / Released February 7th, 2012 on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download
It’s been a few years since the audience and the characters have seen one another and unlike Kevin Smith’s Clerks series, there’s been some changes. Without one another, Harold and Kumar’s worst aspects of themselves have manifested; Harold (John Cho) is a Type A obsessive businessman and husband and Kumar (Kal Penn) has rebelled from his family so far that he’s become a lazy, malcontent. But, it’s the magic of Christmas that reunites the pair and sets them on a journey that not only reestablishes their friendship and has them cross paths again with Neil Patrick Harris, but also puts them both on their respective paths. Extras include an extended cut, featurettes and deleted scenes. A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas is lots of fun and perfect addition to your holiday film collection. Recommended.
The Son Of No One
Anchor Bay / Released February 21, 2012
A murder and it’s cover-up doesn’t necessarily make a fun watch, especially if it’s a film as dour as The Son Of No One. With a strong ensemble that includes Al Pacino, Channing Tatum, Ray Liotta, Katie Holmes, Tracy Morgan and Juliette Binoche the film is loud and doesn’t have any real logical flow. Writer/director Dito Montiel reunites with Tatum for a third time (he appeared in the superior films, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints and Fighting), and brings out a fairly strong performance out of the usually monosyllabic actor. Extras include deleted scenes and commentary. If you’re a fan of Tatum, his performance is worth a watch, otherwise based on the talent involved, prepare for disappointment.
Pac-Man: The Complete First Season
Warner Archives/ Released January 31, 2012
Kudos to Hanna Barbera who were able to take a video game and actually craft characters and a premise strong enough to generate two seasons of a series out of it. This first season includes 13 episodes and an enormous number of Pac-puns as Pac-Man, wife Pepper, Baby-Pac live their life in Pac-Land, fight ghosts Inky, Blinky, Pinky, Clyde and Sue; minions of Mezmaron, the series’ arch-villain (a creation for the series) who wants to gain control of Pac-Land’s power pellet supply. Among the guest characters are Sir Chomp-A-Lot, vampire Count Pac-ula, the Pac-President, the Abominable Pac-Man and more. There’s a definite nostalgia factor with this and although I’m hard pressed to recommend it to anyone with a straight face, it’s a curiosity like no other. Recommended, but you’ve been warned!
Young Justice: Season One V.3
Warner Home Video / Released February 21, 2012
The latest volume of the fantastic animated series broadens the teen heroes exposure to the DC Universe including appearances by Psimon, Cheshire, Sportsmaster, Ra’s al Ghul, Snapper Carr, Lex Luthor, Wendy and Marvin, Mal Duncan, Mr. Freeze, The Icicle, Killer Frost, Hugo Strange, Amanda Waller, Cat Grant, Red Arrow, Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, Karen Beecher, Bette Kane, and Barbara Gordon. One of the successes of this series has been the overall cohesiveness of the comic book universe (something that ironically the comics can’t seem to do) and strong writing and characterization. These four episodes are no exception, but my standard complaint of releasing this series in four episode increments is a disservice. Highly recommended.
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated Season One Part 2
Warner Home Video / January 24th, 2012
As I’ve mentioned in reviews of previous columns, I’ve never been a big Scooby-Doo fan (in no small part to the insipid plots, bad laugh track and overall stupidity), but Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is a brilliant series. With sharp writing, excellent voice work and thoroughly well executed plots, the series is a must see. Warner Bros. has listened to their fans, and this release includes the second half of the first season (as opposed to smaller releases; see Young Justice review above). Unlike previous incarnations of Scooby-Doo, this series features ongoing mysteries and plot threads. One particular episode included in this set, “Mystery Solvers Club State Finals” is worth the price alone as it features other Seventies era characters including Speed Buggy, Jabberjaw, Captain Caveman and Funky Phantom. Highly recommended.
Warner Archive / Released February 7, 2012
In widescreen for the first time from the Warner Archive, Vision Quest immediately looks much better than the previous full screen transfers. My roommate in college, Baker, watched Vision Quest daily (seriously) and the fact that I could even sit through it again almost two decades later is a testament to it’s watchability.
Matthew Modine plays high school wrestler Louden Swain who decides that he will wrestle and win in a different class. The cast is fantastic and includes Ronny Cox, Forest Whitaker, Michael Schoeffling (Jake Ryan from Sixteen Candles), Daphne Zuniga, James Gammon and the extremely hot Linda Fiorentino. The film also features a performance by Madonna. Whether a fan of sports films (or more appropriately, underdog films) or are already familiar with Vision Quest, this disc is it’s best presentation yet and a solid recommendation.
MAD: Season One, Part 2
Warner Home Video / Released January 17th, 2012
Not to be mistaken for the sketch comedy series, MAD TV, MAD is a multi-media (mostly animated) show of eclectic ephemera. Like it’s magazine namesake, MAD is irreverent, tasteless and very funny, with a large percentage of the jokes operating at two different levels for both the younger and older viewers. This disc features 13 episodes (each running 11 minutes), but with the jokes coming fast and furious there’s a lot to enjoy. Mash up parody is king here, with such sketches as Yo Gagga Gagga,
Straight A Team, Two and a Half Man, Fresh Prawn of Bel Air, Law & Ogre, Pooh Grit, Smallville: Turn off the Clark, TwiSchool Musical and Big Fang Theory. Extras include a digital comic and previews. MAD Magazine might not have the same reverence for idocracy that it once did, but stupidity is blooming with this series. Recommended.
Happiness Is Peanuts: Friends Forever
Warner Home Video / Released December 27, 2011
In my opinion, there’s no such thing as a bad Peanuts special. Granted, some are better than others, but all of them have some merit. This release features You’re in Love, Charlie Brown, where Mr. Brown might finally meet the object of his obsession, The Little Red Haired Girl. Also included is an episode of The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, which is comprised of 5 minisodes. My biggest complaint is that Happiness Is Peanuts: Friends Forever feels short (and the minisodes, unfortunately feel like filler). Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile watch and will put a smile on even the most jaded viewer’s face. Recommended.
Walt Disney Home Video / Released February 7, 2012
This tepid Disney Channel movie suffers from a vapid and unlikable main character, Dylan (played by Modern Family‘s Sarah Hyland) who, in a scenario familiar to fans of Eighties movies, opens up to a social misfit and they both change each other for the better. It’s not that the film is bad, and will likely appeal to the intended tween audience, it just has an air of mean-spiritedness that I couldn’t dismiss. As you expect, the characters change for the better and there’s a happy ending, so it’s likely not to disappoint it’s target audience. Extras for the film are non-existent, but the set does include 10 bonus episodes of the Disney Channel series, Shake It Up, which doesn’t have half the depth of the Geek Charming feature film. As much as I enjoy several of the Disney/Nick series, this one really didn’t work for me; but, I’d imagine if you were between the ages of nine and fourteen, it would be far more engaging.
Lady and the Tramp (Diamond Edition)
Walt Disney Home Video / Released February 7, 2012
Fully restored, Lady and the Tramp looks and sounds better than ever. This Disney classic features great characters, fantastic music and iconic moments (Scruffy Tramp and prim Lady sharing an Itallian dinner in an alley) and best of all, is truly a timeless gem. Running a taut (but occasionally draggy) 76 minutes, Lady and the Tramp features a truly flawless picture and crisp sound and some of Disney’s most fluid and lovely animation. But, is more likely to be appreciated by an older viewer or animation fan than be embraced and watched ad infinitum by a younger demographic. Extras are plentiful and include a feature length documentary, archival commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, trailers, a newly recorded song and more. For animation and cinegeeks, this film has never looked better and is a must have.
The Centurions: The Original Mini-Series
Warner Archive / Released December 6, 2011
Why hasn’t anyone remade the ridiculous The Centurions into a big budget summer tentpole movie?
Here’s the pitch:
In the near future Doc Terror, and his cyborg companion, Hacker, unleash their forces to conquer Earth! Only one force can stop this evil: a handful of brave men. In specially created exoframes, they can be transported anywhere to fuse with incredible assault weapon systems, beamed down from the space station Skyvault, becoming man and machine, Power Xtreme! Max Ray, brilliant Sea Operations commander. Jake Rockwell, rugged Land Operations specialist. Ace McCloud, daring Air Operations expert. Whatever the challenge, they are ready—the Centurions!” Debuting as a 5 part mini-series, and enjoying contributions from three of the greatest action artists of the 20th Century – Doug Wildey, Gil Kane, and Jack Kirby – The Centurions promised to pack a punch – and it delivered! Get ready for mad machine action as 3 masters of land, sea, and air do battle with a mad inventor for the fate of a planet.
Couldn’t you just imagine Shia LaBeouf, Jake Gyllenhaal and Vin Diesel stepping into the armor to face off against Christopher Walken’s Doc Terror? Basically, The Centurions doesn’t just fall into the “so bad it’s good” category, it also falls into the “so bad it’s bad” one as well. The show, like so many in the Eighties was designed to sell toys, and might be a must have for nostalgiac fans. Personally, it’s an ideal way to spend an evening with friends MST3K-ing it. Embarrassingly, a recommended must see.
Image Entertainment / Released January 31, 2012
“When a United States Senator is brutally murdered, the evidence points to a Soviet assassin code- named Cassius, who was long-thought to be dead. Two men who know Cassius best are thrown together to catch him.”
One, Richard Gere, plays the premier authority on Cassius from back in the day and insists that Cassius is dead and the other, Topher Grace, is a novice FBI analyst who has spent his entire career studying Cassius and is convinced the elusive assassin has returned.
Here be the spoilers and seriously, if you want to be surprised (and frankly, I wasn’t since it was revealed in the trailer), Gere is Cassius and spends much of the film trying to throw Grace off his tail.
But Grace has some secrets of his own.
And you know what? I didn’t care. Unfortunately, there was no point in the film where I cared about the characters or their actions. Supporting cast members include Odette Yustman, Martin Sheen, Stana Katic and Stephen Moyer who all service the tired and familiar plot adequately. Extras include commentary, a featurette and a trailer. The Double is both lazy and mediocre and worst of all unmemorable.
Texas Killing Fields
Anchor Bay / Released January 31, 2012
Sharing some of her father’s visual flourish, but lacking in his storytelling abilities, director Ami Canaan Mann’s Texas Killing Fields, is apparently inspired by a true story. Unfortunately, it feels like a “true story” we’ve seen again and again. There’s a serial killer dumping corpses in the fields off I-45 outside of League City, Texas and it’s up to detectives Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan to break the case (and deal with plenty of noir inspired soap operatic moments. If nothing else, the cast is exceptional and includes Chloë Grace Moretz, Sheryl Lee, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Graham and Annabeth Gish. Like any good mystery, there’s lots of motive, lots of misdirection and unfortunately a lack of inspiration. Strangely, the audio is solid, but the picture is a bit soft and dark. Extras include commentary and a theatrical trailer. If you’re a fan of the genre, it’s a mild recommendation and worth a rental.
Warner Archive / January 17, 2012
If you were able to suspend your disbelief that the casts of Grease and Beverly Hills 90210 were of high school age, then you will surely enjoy seeing Anthony Perkins and Jane Fonda (in her screen debut) as college students in 1960’s Tall Story. A clever homage to several different genres at the same time, the film is a simple story of a co-ed (the lovely Fonda) who is enrolled in college hoping to land a basketball player for a spouse. Perkins plays the athlete whom Fonda is smitten with; so much so she enrolls in the same classes and becomes a cheerleader. The duo get together and plan to get married, but they are missing one important element. Money.
So begins the various hijinks. The film is tremendously charming and entertaining and includes a number of recognizable faces including Van Williams, Ray Walston, Murray Hamilton and Robert Redford. Tall Story looks and sounds fantastic and extras include the theatrical trailer. This mostly forgotten film deserves to be remembered and is highly recommended!