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Out This Week (In The US): Top Gun, The 5th Wave, Suspicion, The Choice and more

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The 5th Wave – There’s a good movie buried somewhere in The 5th Wave, but you have to dig a bit to find it. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the movie at all, but there were so many little things that could have been improved to make the overall experience better. And much as I hate to say this, one of the biggest issues I had with the film was Chloe Grace Moretz. Now, I’ve been a fan of Moretz’s since she first started appearing as a child actor, and I think she’s making the transition into adulthood quite well. And actually, during the more emotional scenes of the film, she’s good as usual. But she seems awkward a lot of the time. Running, shooting, fighting… she just never seems very natural. And I know her character is supposed to be new to all of this, but somehow her performance doesn’t work well enough to carry a movie this big. Still, there are some neat sequences in the film and it’s worth watching if you keep your standards tempered.

Top Gun: 30th Anniversary Edition – Released in a sharp new Steelbook package to celebrate the film’s 30th Anniversary, Top Gun returns to home video. Top Gun isn’t a great movie, but it’s a great movie. What I mean by that is that the film clearly isn’t high art or cinematic genius. I don’t think people love it because of its well-written script or Oscar-worthy performances. In fact, I don’t know how many truly great movies feature slow-motion half-naked beach volleyball games (although the one in The Godfather is rather memorable). But none of that matters, because Top Gun is cool; so cool. I’ve realized that every time I re-watch Top Gun, it’s like watching it for the first time because I virtually forget every scene in the movie the minute it’s over; it lacks any real substance at all. But you add in the aerial dogfights, the soundtrack, the cool car and motorcycle, the hot romance, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” and yes, the slow-motion volleyball, and it all adds up to a very cool film that holds up surprisingly well; better than most movies from the mid-80s.

The Choice – Teresa Palmer and Benjamin Walker star in the latest Nicholas Sparks film adaptation. Let’s dig deeply not the plot here: boy, girl, love, problems. I think that about sums it up. I mean, really, it’s a Nicholas Sparks movie, I think we all know what we’re going to get. The only question is, is it good Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook) or bad Nicholas Sparks (Dear John)? The answer lies somewhere in between. I’ve always liked Teresa Plamer and Benjamin Walker is goofy-looking but charismatic. I’ve definitely seen worse films from the Sparks factory. But ultimately, it isn’t great enough to really stand out. Still, if you’re in the Sparks demographic, it’s worth a watch.

Suspicion – Making its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Warner Brothers’ online print-on-demand service, The WB Archive (www.wbarchive.com), Suspicion is a terrific film starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. I love this film because — well, not only is it Hitchcock — but it casts Cary Grant as a possible bad guy, a role he didn’t take on all that often. Joan Fontaine won an Oscar for her performance — also fairly rare for a Hitchcock film — and the film is a cracking good suspense thriller right from the start. I’m very glad to see this film deservedly on Blu-ray for the first time.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • SubmergedSubmerged is a solid thriller with a largely unknown cast and supporting performances from Tim Daly and Mario Van Peebles. The story focuses on a group of teenagers and a bodyguard who are trapped in a submerged limousine while trying to fight off would be kidnappers. Luckily, the film fleshes things out a bit more by offering up character development via flashbacks. I love these kinds of thrillers and while Submerged isn’t the best that I’ve seen, it is an entertaining way to kill 90 minutes.
  • Remember – If the image of Christopher Plummer holding up a gun on the cover of this releases doesn’t get you at least interested, I don’t know what will. Well into his 80s, this isn’t the kind of role you see on Plummer’s CV much anymore. The story focuses on Plummer’s character, who discovers that one of his Nazi captors is still alive and living in America. With the aid of Martin Landau, he sets out to get revenge for his family, but with his memory fading, is everything what it seems? It’s not the most original plot I’ve ever seen, but the film is elevated by terrific performances by Plummer and Landau. I love seeing both of them in roles a little different that what they’ve been doing lately, too, so this one is worth a watch.
  • Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre – So bad it’s good? No. So bad it’s bad is more like it. I love cheesy shark movies, but this one is just awful. Prehistoric shark-like creatures that can burrow through the ground — yes, through the ground, for no apparent reason — trap a group of terrible actors masquerading as escaped convicts at a cabin in the bayou. There’s just nothing about this movie that’s any good. The acting is horrible, the script is a joke, and there’s literally no humor. Avoid this one like you were avoiding a real shark in the ocean.
  • Brokenwood Mysteries: Series 2 – Nobody does mysteries like the Brits, and Brokenwood Mysteries is a prime example of what they do well. Even if it is a little bit formulaic in its approach (big city detective relocates to small town, doesn’t quite get along with new partner), the show still works because the mysteries are engaging, the cast is terrific, and the characters are interesting enough to draw you in. This release features four feature-length stories, and you’ll definitely find yourself sucked in by the end.
  • Emelie – Sort of an amped up version of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Emelie is the latest in a long line of babysitter-from-hell movies. The good news is that it’s actually pretty good. Much of the credit goes to Sarah Bolger, who turns in a terrific performance as the unhinged babysitter, and the film tries to work in some psychological drama so it’s not just a glorified slasher-flick, which adds a little emotional heft to the proceedings. It’s not the greatest film in the world, but it’s a decent little thriller.
  • Mojin: The Lost Legend – Apparently based on a series of bestselling novels, Mojin: The Lost Legend is sort of a mash-up of Tomb Raider and the Librarian movies with big budget Asian martial arts flicks. The end result is pretty fun. I like a good Asian action flick, but many of them can veer either too far into the silly or too far into the serious. This one strikes a nice balance, and its grand scale and sense of adventure give it a different feel from a lot of the films that have come out of China in the past decade. Worth a look for a little something different.
  • Kingdom of Blood – On the other side of the spectrum is this much more typical Asian action release, which typifies what I don’t care for about the genre. Humorless, overly serious, and generally overwrought, this movie features lead characters named Emotionless, Coldblood, Iron Hands, and Life Snatcher. Ugh, no thanks. I get that there are fans for these kinds of movies, I’m just not one of them.
  • Sniper: Special Ops – Steven Seagal and Rob Van Dam star in this direct-to-video actioner that has no connection that I can see with the much better original Tom-Berenger-led Sniper franchise. Seagal just looks tired for the most part in this film, which offers up a pretty average modern-day warfare movie set in Afghanistan. Sadly, the movie isn’t very good, and I hope it doesn’t fool fans of the very solid Sniper franchise into watching it.
  • The Club – A cross between drama and thriller, The Club focuses on a group of priests sent to a remote location to purge “the sins of the past.” When a new priest shows up, his presence upsets the delicate balance of the group. This isn’t going to be a film that some people will want to watch, as the idea of a retirement home of sorts for disgraced clergy will weigh heavily for some. And make no mistake; there are some harrowing and disturbing scenes in this film. However, the story is well told and the performances are strong, leading to a solid drama with some intense moments.
  • The Haunting of Alice D – I know that horror fans love Kane Hodder, but let’s be honest: his presence in a film nowadays rarely denotes a mark of quality. The Haunting of Alice D takes your typical haunted house story and sets it in a place that was a brothel in the 19th century, opening the door for somewhat more depraved goings-on than usual. The resultant film is the usual crap that passes for horror these days, and I can’t say that I enjoyed this film at all.
  • Bikes vs. Cars – Well, in a straight-up death match, cars are going to win every time. But this documentary isn’t about roadside games of chicken. Instead, it’s about the bicycle, and what a revolutionary mode of transport it can be. It’s not like most people don’t know that bicycles are inherently better for the environment than cars, but this film frames the bike movement on a global scale, and the result is an enjoyable and informative documentary that just might be able to make a small impact on the world. And that’s the best kind of documentary.
  • RWBY: Volume 3 – From the creators of the hit web series Red Vs. Blue comes RWBY: Volume 3, a new entry in the anime franchise that still has some fans divided, although less so than the first film. On the one hand, a lot of people like the characters and dialogue, but fewer people like the animation. It is a bit crude, but it’s still an entertaining enough film the third time around. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the franchise, but I also sit down and watch each time a new installment comes out, so clearly I’m a little bit interested.
  • Coat of Many Colors – Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles takes on her first acting role as Dolly Parton’s mother and co-stars with Rick Schroeder in Coat of Many Colors, a TV movie biopic that feature sons very young Dolly Parton and how the title coat influenced her life. I’ll be honest, I don’t have a problem with these biopics, even though they’re all very Lifetime-styled and by-the-numbers. As I know next to nothing about Parton’s real life, this was an interesting watch, even if you do need to bring a case of wine to go with all the cheese.
  • 10 That Changed America – I don’t know that I would say that the the 10 homes, 10 parks, and 10 towns featured in this program literally changed America — at least not in the direct way the title implies — but they certainly did help shape and evolve the culture of the country’s architecture and landscape. Maybe I’m being too literal; my interpretation doesn’t take away from the fact that is a relatively interesting program. Plus, with three hours of content, you get some serious bang for your buck.
  • Frontline: The Fantasy Sports Gamble – I’ve played fantasy football, but I’ve never played for money. I only play in free leagues, because frankly I’m afraid of how obsessed I would become if I had actual money riding on things. This excellent hour-long investigative documentary dives deep into the world of online fantasy sports and online sports betting, and it’s extremely interesting. I’ve long thought sites like FanDuel.com and others of similar ilk were ripe for cheating scandals, and while this doesn’t go so far as to prove that, it will certainly make you think twice about spending your money on online sports betting.
  • Die Fighting – This is kind of a fascinating train wreck of a film, but also a trainwreck that some people will love. Apparently, the Z Team is a real group of martial artists; they star in this film about a group of martial artists who win a competition and go on to try and conquer Hollywood, only to be forced to fight their way through a series of Saw-like contraptions to survive a “reality” film by a sadistic director. It’s over-the-top, ridiculous, and ultra-violent, but it also features some terrific fight sequences. Fans who like both action and horror movies might enjoy this oddball mash-up.
  • Sing It, Elmo! – A great new release for the preschool set, Sing It, Elmo is the latest collection of Elmo-centric Sesame Street episodes/segments. This themed collection obviously takes on a musical theme, with Elmo and Zoey turning in a few good song and dance numbers. With two hours of content, it’s hard to find anything to fault about this collection for parents or kids.
  • Wild Kratts: Wild Animal Babies – I have to say, as far as kids shows go, The Wild Kratts: Wild Animal Babies is one of the better ones. It manages to combine animals and superhero-style adventures into one fun animated series that is both entertaining and educational. And, of course, not only do I find it enjoyable, but my kids also really like it, which is what’s really important. The show focuses on the Brothers Kratt, animal experts and adventurers, who use creature power suits to take on the traits of various animals and interact with them in their habitats. Along the way, a variety of villains, predators, or obstacles will show up, and the Kratt Brothers have to save the day. The show mixes in humor, action, and cool suit designs, plus it has a good supporting cast of characters that kids will like.
  • Bob the Builder: Construction Heroes! – This is the newest DVD release in the adventures of the original animated handyman. It’s been a while since I reviewed a Bob the Builder DVD, so I was surprised (and pleased) to see that the character has gone through a complete overhaul, with a much more realistic and modern style to the show. I’m guessing that kids who are more into construction vehicles and the like will really enjoy it.
  • Let’s Learn: S.T.E.M. Vol. 2 – This is the latest DVD from Nickelodeon that’s geared squarely at the pre-school set, with a heavy emphasis on learning basic concepts. In this case, that’s science, technology, education and math. The disc contains episodes of Dora the Explorer, Team Umizoomi, Paw Patrol, and Blaze and the Monster Machines. Sure, each of these shows deals with learning in most all of their episodes, but these ones do seem to have a more basic learning building block at the core of them. What’s great is that kids love these shows, so they won’t be like, “blah, a boring educational DVD.” It’s shows they love, and there are some basic skill building lessons on colors included. Not too shabby.
  • Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir – I had never heard of this show before this DVD came across my desk, but I really kind of dig it. A French cartoon that’s been re-dubbed and imported onto American TV screens (via Nickelodeon), this show features two friends who are secretly animal-themed superheroes (and who have super-pets) and who try to protect Paris from the bad guys. Geared for slightly older kids, I think this is a really cute show and I can see it gaining a large following in the states.
  • Pride And Joy: The Story Of Alligator Records – A few weeks ago I reviewed a few Zydeco-themed movies by director Robert Mugge. This week, we get Pride And Joy: The Story Of Alligator Records which tells the tale of one of the most successful modern Blues music labels in the world. As with his previous films, Mugge’s affection for the subject matter is evident, and the film mixes standard documentary themes with some spirited music. I’m not a huge blues fan overall, but this is an interesting enough doc for anyone who likes music.
  • Hyena Road – The second war film released this week taking place in Afghanistan, Hyena Road is a big improvement over the aforementioned Sniper: Special Ops. Written and directed by and starring Paul Gross, this is one of those films where the person behind it’s identity is clearly evident throughout the film. Gross isn’t a bad actor, and the film, while fairly typical of what we’ve come to expect from war movies, is a pretty good effort overall.
  • Scherzo Diabolico – Acclaimed spanish-language filmmaker Adrián García Bogliano has been quietly amassing a fan following due to his twisty, gritty thrillers like Here Comes the Devil. In his latest film, Scherzo Diabolico, what starts off as a revenge-fueled kidnapping quickly morphs into something much more twisted. To say more would be to ruin the surprises that are coming, but suffice it to say that this film is not for the weak of heart. Filled with twists and turns, violence, sex, and bloodshed, the film will gut-punch you one second and mind-warp you the next. If you like hardcore horror/exploitation films, check it out.
  • Hostile Border – This is an interesting and intense film that takes a look at immigration from a different perspective. In it, a 22-year-old girl who was born in the US to immigrant parents is forcibly deported back to Mexico, where she doesn’t speak the language and has estranged family at best. Her attempts to return to the US and deal with the harsh realities of life in Mexico fuel the remainder of the film, which is gripping and visceral. Is it a drama with some thriller elements thrown in or a thriller with some dramatic elements thrown in? The answer is yes.
  • The Messenger – This film details the plight of the songbird, an animal I didn’t even realize was endangered. Through beautiful imagery and a global perspective, we learn about songbirds and their plight, and we see them interacting with a number of environments and situations, both natural and societal. This isn’t a nature documentary, but a film about the birds’ impact on the world and ways in which there absence would be missed. Worth a look if you like a somber but thoughtful film.
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