Moana – While Zootopia got more attention at the box office and was the clear animated box office juggernaut of 2016, Moana quietly went on to become a massive hit in its own right, and deservedly so. While it does – to an extent – fit into the Disney princess mold, that doesn’t take away in the slightest from what a truly terrific film it is. Filled with humor, action, spectacular visuals, and really great songs (even if you don’t like musicals, you’ll like these songs by’s Lin-Manuel Miranda), the film is fun from start to finish but also manages to be heartfelt, promote equality, and have an overall message of protecting the earth (but in a very subtle way.) This one’s an A+ all the way.
Fences – Based on the play by August Wilson, Fences stars Denzel Washington (who also wrote and directed) and Viola Davis is a long-deserved Oscar-winning role. The film’s story itself is fairly basic, following a1950s family where the patriarch suffers from broken dreams and a heavy dose of real life. That said, the film is still largely gripping, extremely emotional, and – not surprisingly at all – exceptionally well-acted. Washington brings some strong chops to the director’s chair, and the film is a very strong first effort for him as director. Worth a watch for sure.
Jackie – Similar to Fences, Jackie is a movie that features some pretty amazing performances, including Natalie Portman, who was Oscar-nominated for her role. And while the film as a whole feels a little cool to me (I never got as emotionally invested as I wanted to), it is an interesting Red Dawn enough story with strong enough performances to make it worth tracking down. It might not be your first choice on a Friday night, but it would make for a good Sunday evening movie.
Red Dawn – While has been available on home video many times before, this is the first time Shout! Factory has made a collector’s edition of the film available on Blu-ray. And if you’re a fan of Shout’s home video output, you know what it means: the best version of a movie you can hope to own. This time around, the ‘80s action classic starring Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and many other familiar faces comes loaded with new extra features such as an hour-plus documentary about the making of the film. Hell yeah! WOLVERINES!!!
Collateral Beauty – Will Smith stars alongside a terrific supporting cast (Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, Ed Norton) about a man suffering from a major loss in his life who deals with it by writing letters to Death, Time, and Love. But what happens when Death, Time, and Love start answering him? While it sounds like the premise of a horror movie, it’s actually meant to be a kind of metaphysical uplifting drama, albeit one with a lot of sadness in it. And while critics were extremely unkind to the film, I actually kind of liked it. It’s got an interesting premise, Will Smith gives a strong performance, and the supporting cast play their roles well. It’s not a slam dunk, but it is interesting enough to watch.
Firestarter – Young Drew Barrymore stars in this classic 1980s adaptation of one of Stephen King’s early hit novels: Firestarter. The story of a young girl with Pyrotechnic powers, the film is one of those interesting ‘80s oddities; it’s not the best film in the world, and it wasn’t a smash hit (although it was successful), but it does remain well loved and the title still has a certain cultural cache in the pop culture lexicon. Say “Firestarter” to anyone, and they’ll automatically catch the reference. This new Shout! Factory collector’s edition includes some great new features, including a new audio commentary, a new making-of documentary, and several new featurettes. A must have for fans of the film!
Elle – Isabelle Huppert was Oscar-nominated (and won the Golden Globe for Best Actress) for her role in this French film, a movie which I will admit was not what I expected. From the little I knew of the movie, I assumed it was a straightforward drama. Instead, it’s more of a thriller, which makes perfect sense when you realize that it was directed by the great Paul Verhoeven (Starship Troopers, Basic Instinct.) The subject matter is a bit tough (there is a sexual assault that predicates much of the action in the film), but if you don’t mind that, it’s an engaging and intense film that rewards viewers, as I’d expect from Verhoeven.
Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:
Solace – Okay, when you have Anthony Hopkins playing a former FBI agent with some psychic abilities alongside Colin Farrell and Abbie Cornish (both of whom I enjoy greatly), I’m gonna go along for the ride. And while the plot summary didn’t have me expecting much, I have to say that Solace is a perfectly serviceable thriller. It’s not overly great or particularly memorable, but it’s a good way to kill a couple of hours. Hopkins, Farrell, and Cornish are all very good, and the film doesn’t try to be more than it is, which I appreciate. Worth a watch on a night when nothing else jumps out at you.
Six: Season One – I really wanted to fall in love with Six, mostly because it counts Walton Goggins (Justified) among its cast members, and I love him in just about everything he’s ever been in. And while there’s no doubt the show is well-made and has high production values, this series about an elite military unit just didn’t grab me. There’s a good mix of drama and action, and it looks terrific, but there’s something missing that I just can’t quantify.
The Jetsons: Robo-Wrestlemania – Did the Jetsons really need to team up with the WWE? I don’t think so, but that seems to be Warner Bros.’ MO of late after successful pairings between Scooby-Doo and the WWE on more than one occasion. With a 20th-century wrestler unearthed in the Jetsons’ future, the film features robots, wrestling, and beloved characters. And while I’m not a wrestling fan per se, it’s a certain kind of fun. Plus, it features the voices of Sheamus, Alicia Fox, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins, plus the Uso Brothers.
For the Love of Spock – This terrific documentary about Leonard Nimoy was created and directed by his son, Adam Nimoy, and it is both a comprehensive look at a well-loved man in the world of television and cinema history as well as a personal exploration of one filmmaker’s famous father. It features interviews with TONS of Star Trek luminaries, and while I am a huge Trek fan, I do think this movie is good enough that it can be enjoyed by even the most casual Trek It’s warm, heartfelt, interesting, and informative; in short, a perfect documentary.
The Love Witch – A small film that has received some serious critical accolades, The Love Witch sees a modern-day witch using a love spell to try and find the man of her dreams, only to find it backfire and for her life to become more complicated. It’s an interesting film with a heady mix of tones between comedy and drama, and it’s also shot in a way that is extremely reminiscent of the 1960s. It’s a touch too long but it does have some wonderful moments, and I’d recommend it to people who like slightly artsier fare.
100 Streets – Idris Elba, Gemma Arterton, and Tom Cullen star in this disjointed drama about several different people and their lives who all live within 100 streets of each other in modern-day London. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really work. Despite nice performances by Elba and Arterton, the additional sub-plots that have nothing to do with them distract from their story, and none of the stories presented are all that compelling. There’s some good acting here, but nothing worth going out of your way for.
Always Shine – Hmmm… I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this film. The story of two friends, both actresses, who decide to reconnect with a weekend trip away to a remote cabin in Big Sur. While that sounds like the premise of a horror film, it’s more of a psychological drama with some suspense/tension built in as they work through the tension between them. While I didn’t love the film, the performances by Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin Fitzgerald are top-notch, so that counts for something.
Van Gogh’s Ear, Secrets of the Six Wives, Polar Bear Town, Million Dollar American Princesses – PBS has four new releases this week, and they’re about as different as can be. Secrets of the Dead: Van Gogh’s Ear is a really interesting program that isn’t a biopic about Vincent van Gogh, but rather an actual investigation into what happened the night the artist cut off his own ear. The story is part of historical lore, but what REALLY happened? This show sets out to answer that. Secrets of the Six Wives features historian Lucy Worsley as she sets out to explore the Tudor Court of Henry the VII. Worsley actually narrates and stars in a way, as she portrays a servant in the court, leading viewers through a number of re-enactments that give us a glimpse into the lives of Henry’s wives and others. It’s not entirely my cup of tea, but history buffs might like it more. Polar Bear Town is actually a series, presenting a half-dozen episodes about the town of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, where Polar bears migrate right through the town as they make their way to Hudson Bay. Apparently, it’s quite the spectacle and people come from all over to see it, but this show lets you watch from the comfort of your own home. It’s really cool, and quite fascinating. Finally, Million Dollar American Princesses is another series that looks at the real lives of the women from rich families that helped shape America in the late 1800s and 1900s. Hosted by Elizabeth McGovern, it’s billed as being about the women who Downton Abbey draws inspiration from. It’s more of your typical biography type of stuff, but it’s pretty good viewing overall.