I almost loved this movie. It’s a sweeping epic that interweaves a collection of characters through stories set in six different times. Each story is a different genre (adventure, drama, thriller, comedy, sci-fi, and post-apocalypse) and features the same thirteen actors in different roles, sometimes disguised so well you can barely recognize them. My only problem with Cloud Atlas was that I felt blah about one of the storylines (Halle Berry investigates nuclear secrets) and outright hated another (Tom Hanks as a post-apocalypse radiation hillbilly). Do check it out though. The other stories are fabulous.
I adore Top Gear – a British car program that’s funny and unique enough to attract even people who don’t like cars (people like me). Most of the seasons aren’t worth their $20-$30 price tag, as they only contain about 6 episodes. This one, however, is, because it’s one of the few that include an epic two-hour adventure. In this one, they drive station wagons across Africa looking for the source of the Nile. Other challenges worth buying the DVDs for include designing a car for seniors, pitching the world’s smallest homemade car to Dragon’s Den, and the epic train vs car race to Italy. Check it out – you’ll love it.
This is a sequel to Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it was released in theaters in 3D (though not screened for critics, which is not surprising). It takes place after a mob has lynched the family responsible for the original massacre and a distant relative comes in from out of town to claim the estate which (surprise!) contains Leatherface. Beyond that it’s your typical, predictable gore fest, with limbs and blood splatters flying everywhere and characters making the same bad decisions and dying in the same predictable order. This is something to put on in the background of a Halloween party and not watch.
Some movies get a lot of attention from critics because they’re boring and pretentious, but sometimes they get attention because everybody genuinely enjoys them. Silver Linings Playbook is one of those movies. Regular people like it because it’s a cute romantic comedy starring adorable people (Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper) and critics like it because it takes on ‘deep’ issues like mental illness, addiction, compulsive gambling, and dysfunctional relationships. One of my friends went to it 5+ times in theaters, but you’ll probably be fine with once on DVD.
The whole dirty cop thing is a popular theme, but unlike the rest of the dirty cop thrillers, this one wraps up the cop part early and moves on to private eye (not a huge leap, I know, but it’s something). Mark Wahlberg plays the aforementioned dirty cop who kills a rapist and then gets sucked into a big dirty political mess involving the candidates for the mayoral election. Like most thrillers, it relies on revelations of who met whom for what reason for its tension, but the tension is damaged by the fact that the scandal is a pretty standard one that’s easy to figure out. I wouldn’t bother with it.
I don’t like Seth Rogan at the best of times, but put him in a cliched and unfunny road trip movie with Barbara Streisand and I’d drive across the country just to avoid it. The plot (such as it is) centers around Rogan’s character as a cleaning fluid salesman driving across the US to peddle his product. His mother invites herself along to work out their issues and reunite with an old lover. A road trip movie’s success relies on character/actor chemistry, and unfortunately theirs just doesn’t do anything for me. For a really funny road trip comedy you haven’t seen, try the Australian film Thunderstruck.
This was released in a limited number of theaters last week, but the DVD is what you really want. At $15, it’s the same price as an IMAX ticket and you get special features with it, including a documentary, an audio commentary, and a gag reel. The actual content is movie length – a full two-part episode arc featuring Captain Picard’s capture and assimilation into the Borg collective – and is remastered to look good in HD (though the aspect ratio remains full screen). Not worth it if you have the full season set, but a good nostalgic investment if you don’t.
Man, it’s been a long time since I saw a romantic comedy. Even longer since I saw a GOOD one. Even longer than that since I saw a good ENSEMBLE romantic comedy. I’m looking forward to this. Why? Well, Ben Barnes is extremely cute. That goes a long way. And then of course the last two wedding related films I saw with Amanda Seyfried and Katherine Heigl in them (Mamma Mia and 27 Dresses, respectively) were HILARIOUS. And then there’s the hint of It’s Complicated thrown in there with the inclusion of a messy divorce/new girlfriend subplot involving the older parents. I’m not a DeNiro affictionato and the reason for the whole mess is tenuous at best (the mother of the groom is very religious) but I guess when you think about it, when are these movies ever that realistic?
PAIN AND GAIN
The fact that there’s a red band version of the trailer for this movie was a bad sign to me. That usually means the comedy is so disgusting they have to warn people before subjecting them to even two minutes of it (sort of like the labels they put on radioactive waste). And then of course there’s the Michael Bay factor. His name is not exactly a seal of quality these days. This movie doesn’t look too bad, though. The utter doofusness of the characters (combined with the fact that the movie and the actors know that these guys are doofuses) gives Pain and Gain a certain amount of charm. The plot seems to be very Seven Psychopaths with heavy thematic does of Jersey Shore, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’d watch this on video someday.
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION – BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
This is only coming to a select few theaters (i.e those located in cities judged to have a high number of Star Trek fans) which is just as well, because it’s just two episodes squashed together. It costs somewhere between $11 and $16 to see it depending on your theater. For that much money, you might as well buy the DVD. At least then you’d get the special features (I for one would like to see that gag reel). Hell, buy a subscription to Netflix and you can watch all 178 episodes for $8 as long as you can speed through over a hundred hours of show in under a month. Having said that though, these screenings will be total nerd parties, which could be fun regardless of what’s on the screen.
Four years ago, after watching way too much One Tree Hill and McLeod’s Daughters, I got fed up with TV cliches and wrote this. Please enjoy it in lieu of this week’s review, as I will not be anywhere with a movie theater this weekend.
Say you’re a television writer and you’ve got writer’s block, but you’ve got to keep the drama rolling if you want the paycheck that’s going to put food in your kids’ mouths. You’re doing 24 episodes a year, writing flat out. Your house looks like a bomb went off in it. Your kids are whining that they a) never see you and b) are hungry. Your boss keeps thrusting the ratings in your face. Your show is supposedly grounded in reality, so you can’t bring in aliens or magical fairies to poof you out of the corner you’ve written yourself into. What do you do?
You turn to the writer’s ammunition pouch and pull out the surefire guaranteed instant drama pills. Don’t let the fact that these magic pills are known as cliches in critical circles stop you. Remember: your kids need bread. If you’re new to TV writing, let me fill your ammo clip for you by giving you examples of instant drama pill storylines from the one hour drama series SATURDAY NIGHT TRAILER FEVER.
If you’re not familiar with this fabulous yet relatively unknown show, here’s the premise:
Mulleted idiot Joe Bob opens a discotheque with his brother John Bob in their trailer park after they discover they both love to imitate headless seizuring chickens to the beat of porno themes sung by men with voices only dogs can hear.
Quentin Tarantino tackles slavery in his usual style: with lots of violence, blood, and a certain hysterical detachment from reality. Jamie Foxx plays a slave (Django) who escapes with the help of a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz playing the same character he always plays) and together they go after Leonardo DiCaprio, the horrible slave owner who has Django’s wife under his thumb. Enough Tarantino fans had a nerdgasm over it to get it high ratings online, but a lot of people will be turned off by the endless, glorified violence and the fact that most of it makes no sense.
This 3D animated film produced in France borrows a lot stylistically from the Aardman films, specifically the Aardman film Pirates! Band of Misfits – right down to the monkey assistant who speaks through cue cards. Story-wise it’s a cross between The Phantom of the Opera and Beauty and the Beast. It follows a pair of oddballs who discover a giant singing flea and his human partner when they go hunting the streets of Paris for the ‘monster’ that’s been ‘terrorizing’ it. It’s pretty decent (for both kids and adults) but nothing special.
If you enjoy spy movies like Skyfall and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, then this is not the movie for you. It’s more along the lines of a ‘realistic’ spy story a la John LeCarre wherein nothing much really happens until someone gets killed, and even then it doesn’t feel like anything’s happened. David Tennant (of Doctor Who fame) plays a French Embassy worker who falls for a Polish woman on the eve of World War II. Running time is about 5 hours (it’s really a mini-series) but it will feel like about 5 years to people who like their spy movies to have actual tension and/or action.
In a nod to the fact that next Monday is Earth Day, Disneynature is releasing a documentary about the pollinators – the butterflies, bees, bats, and hummingbirds who fly around landing on flowers and plants, spreading the pollen around so that they reproduce. As always, the cinematography is incredible – sometimes achieving Planet Earth levels of awesome when they’re showing hummingbirds in slow motion close up. But since it’s for kids, it’s short (77 minutes) and quite superficial on an informational level, so if you have any training in science you probably won’t learn anything new.
I had no idea this show had managed to stick around past the first season. I watched a few episodes years ago with my grandmother and I remember thinking that it was at least as dorky as Doctor Who. In the show, Merlin is young and just coming into his powers. He starts out as adviser to King Arthur’s dad, but by season 5 Arthur himself has taken over and for 13 episodes they’re roaming over the countryside having magical adventures. The only thing missing is the Tardis. It’s too campy for me, but it might be good for kids and the easily offended.
It used to be that all the actors were clamoring to play mentally challenged people as a sure-fire way to get an Oscar nomination. Now they’re all competing for roles where they get to impersonate a historical figure. Come close enough and you might get a nod! This time it’s Bill Murray taking his turn as FDR in a historical drama set during the King and Queen of England’s visit in 1939. His affair with Laura Linney’s character provides part of the story and the other part comes from Roosevelt getting King Bertie and his wife to loosen up a little. It’s no King’s Speech, but it’s not bad.
You know you’re dealing with a crappy straight-to-DVD movie when the principal cast consists of not one but FIVE washed up television stars and the title sounds like a film school student’s description of a cliched stock character. The story is Scott Pilgrim vs the World-ish, with a bunch of ex-lovers showing up like dumb sheep to be manipulated by Katie Sackhoff’s character (the aforementioned sexy evil genius) who has already murdered one of her exes. It’s 85 minutes of overacting, illogic, and William Baldwin trying to be Alec Baldwin. You probably want to skip this one.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, it’s a lean week for DVDs, so let’s look at another terrible knockoff with an on-the-nose title. Bad Kids Go to Hell is probably best described as ‘the Breakfast Club gets horribly murdered, har de har har.’ It even stars (and I use that word loosely) Judd Nelson as the headmaster who’s trying to be David Cross in She’s the Man. The ‘kids’ all look to be around 38 years old and are so unlikeable you’ll be hoping for the killer. It’s billed as a dark comedy but the only really funny thing about it is how bad the acting is. Skip it!
Nerd alert! If you’re a big Avengers fan and you don’t get have all the Blu-Rays or 3D Blu-Rays, now’s your chance to get them all together in a SHIELD briefcase with a Tesseract (glowy blue cube). Note that there are no DVDs in this set but there is a bonus disc full of extra scenes and featurettes, plus replica dossiers. For those who need a run down on the movies: Avengers: pretty good, Captain America: really good, Thor: terrific, Iron Man: awesome, Iron Man 2: less than, and Incredible Hulk: kind of forgettable.
I wasn’t originally planning to talk about anything other than the Avengers super nerd boxed set this week, but then I saw Hitler’s Children. It’s a lesser known German documentary (subtitled in English) about the descendants of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle: people like Goering and Himmler. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to have everyone associate you with genocide despite the fact that you thought your family was totally normal until the shades were suddenly pulled away, you’ll find this fascinating. I sure did.
And finally, if you enjoy detective and police procedural shows, this little known British television series might be up your street. It will be even more up your street if you like clever satire, madcap plotlines, and zany characters, as this is a Douglas Adams adaptation (he of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame). Dirk is the eccentric, insolvent proprietor of a ‘holistic’ detective agency, who relies on the universe’s inherent interconnectedness to solve crimes of a more peculiar nature than you might see on Sherlock or CSI. Check it out if you can find it.
The worst movie of 2012 is now available on DVD! Fans of the Twilight series will want to buy it and relive its insipid finale forever, while non-fans who are forced to watch will only feel like it goes on forever. The plot concerns a pair of vampire lovers and their vegetarian vampire/werewolf family protecting a creepy half human infant from the evil vampire ruling class, but all you need to know is that nothing really happens…. and it’s like three hours long. Easily the worst of the five films in the series, though they’re all pretty bad. Read my review for more.
No, this is not a movie about tracking down loose cannon fighter pilots. Mavericks are really big, really dangerous waves, and Chasing Mavericks is the (sort of) true story of a teenage boy who decides to surf one and enlists the aid of a local surfing legend named Frosty (no, he is not a snowman) to help him not die. As an inspirational surfing movie, it’s less annoying than Soul Surfer (too religious), but still pretty trite. The big draw is the surfing footage: apparently they lost six cameras just trying to film in the big waves. Check it out if you’re into the sport (or wish you were).
Quite a few Hollywood movies are thinly veiled takes on Scientology. Perhaps the thinnest veil of all belongs to The Master, which stars Joaquin Phoenix as an alcoholic post-World War II naval officer who gets sucked into a cult run by Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s one of those movies that’s not very satisfying to watch, though, where everything falls apart and everybody is horrible, so the movie did well with critics and award committees but not with regular viewers like you and me. So I’m recommending that you get your cult on by watching episode 3 of Cracked instead.
This is a BBC documentary. It is presented by David Attenborough. Need I say more? Can we all agree that the BBC makes the best nature documentaries and that whenever a new one comes out you should watch it? We got quite a few fascinating glimpses into Africa during the Planet Earth series, but here the continent has a whole series all to itself. MOAR ELEPHANTS! MOAR LIONS! MOAR WEIRD ANIMALS AND SAND DUNES! The best part is, you won’t even realize you’re learning while you’re watching it (and neither will your kids).
For those of you who are hanging out with your families and/or having dinners and parties today, HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
For those of you who are trying to shop for DVDs even though all the stores are closed, GOOD NEWS! There are actually some things coming out today. Here they are:
I know a lot of people who were blown away by Looper, but I’m not one of them. It’s a futuristic story about a hit man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt with unnecessary facial prosthetics) who kills people sent back in time by the mob. He’s supposed to shoot his older self (Bruce Willis) and doesn’t, meaning he has to chase the guy around while he’s on some vengeance mission against a little kid. As with many time travel movies, the plot kind of falls apart if you think about it too hard (read: at all), but otherwise it’s pretty decent. Check out my full review for more.
I don’t usually talk about TV shows, but there’s not a lot coming out on Christmas Day and I love Justified. It stars Timothy Olyphant as a US Marshal who gets in trouble in Miami and is sent back home to Kentucky to work with the local yokels and deal with all the gun toting homegrown terrorist maniac wife beater types (rural Kentucky: surprisingly not quiet). It’s pretty gritty and violent but it’s also really smart and different. Raylan the Marshal has tons of charm and badass Marshal skills, so if you don’t love him, there may be something wrong with you.
Have you been wondering what Freddie Prinze Jr. has been up to since the last of those 90s teen love stories has faded from memory? Yeah, me either, but here he is again, providing the voice for the random not-Shepard lieutenant who was in Mass Effect 3. He has to lead some troops against an alien invasion in this terrible straight to video anime movie based on the popular video games. Call me crazy, but I thought the appeal of this franchise was that you actually got to PARTICIPATE in space battles, not just watch them from the sidelines.
“Happy birthday, Kat!” says the studio. “Our gift to you is that The Expendables 2 – the movie you least want to own – will be released on DVD just in time for your special day!” Well thanks, Studio, but no thanks. The Expendables 2 can best be described as Sylvester Stallone and his fellow aging action stars (Statham, Schwarzenegger, Li, Van-Damme, Lundgren, Norris, Willis… and also Liam Hemsworth for some reason) blowing up the world. It’s like the first movie, but this time with revenge instead of rescuing. There. Now you don’t need to see it. You’re welcome.
Soon it will be December and you will be looking for Christmas-related movies to occupy your kids during family events and parties. No doubt some of you will see the word “Santa” in the title of this one and pick it up. Do not do this if you intend to watch it with your children. It’s one of those painfully trite and awful straight-to-DVD Disney releases featuring talking dogs (thanks, Disney, for taking Air Bud and ruining it). And as if that weren’t bad enough, the dogs are coming to a small town to restore the magic of Christmas. So… it’s like the Grinch, but longer. And more awful.
At first glance, this movie looks like a Hunger Games ripoff. But don’t worry – it’s MUCH too cheap for that. It follows two couples who go Geocaching in the woods and are then set upon by a trio of people in suits who have come to take the cache from them at gunpoint. Cache handed over, movie finished, right? Wrong. Everyone makes enough dumb decisions and attempts enough pathetically fake looking stunts to bring the movie up to 95 minutes. Which is about 90 minutes longer than you will want to watch, no matter how much they tried to make the lead character look like Zac Efron.
I like to watch documentaries sometimes – good ones – about things I know almost nothing about. For things I do know a bit about, books generally have more to offer me. The Dust Bowl, Ken Burns’ latest documentary, is a good one. The Dust Bowl was a ten year drought and series of dirt storms that was caused by overfarming in the Midwest during the 1930s. He focuses on people who were kids at the time and what it took for the prairies to recover – all told it’s about four hours long, which will be a bit much for some people. But you should check it out – it’s got implications for climate change.