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Out This Week (In The US): Zootopia, Star Trek II, Ghostbusters, 13 Hours & more



Zootopia – I have to admit, I was pretty surprised by Zootopia’s runaway success. From all the trailers, the film just didn’t look very good to me. I don’t say that to disparage the movie, just to say that I really thought it wasn’t going to be a hit. Well, I was just about as wrong as can be on that one, wasn’t I? Zootopia turned into one of Disney’s biggest hits in years. I know for a fact that my kids loved it, but it’s the kind of film that adults can also enjoy, which I think is why it was so popular. It’s a real family film, and the whole buddy cop angle — or “bunny cop” as Disney calls it — is a familiar storyline that adults can enjoy. Hey, I can’t get them all right!

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan [Director’s Cut] – I’m as excited as anybody when a new Star Trek release came out, and I was doubly so to see a new Director’s Cut of Star Trek II, hands down one of the best of the Star Trek films, if not THE best. Now, before you get too excited, it’s not a drastically different film. Little things are different here and there and there are a couple of new scenes, but it’s not like it’s an entirely new film or anything. That said, it’s very cool to watch and for a movie I’ve seen so many times, it was fun to discover some new nuances to it. Worth the purchase for Trek fans.

Ghostbusters & Ghostbusters 2 Ultra 4K – I know what you’re thinking: “Another home video version of Ghostbusters?” Well, yes, and this time it’s in the new Ultra 4K High definition format. Now, I wish I could report that this was a revolution in video quality, and while the film certainly looks pretty great, it’s not the jump in quality you might expect for a new format. But keep in mind that this is also a 30-year-old film (plus its sequel, available separately) so it’s not exactly the best example of the new format. However, there is some nice improvement in levels of detail across the board, and the biggest improvement is in the color saturation, which is vibrant like it’s never been before, which is great for a film like this that is laden with special effects. I can’t say I’d rush right out and get these if you already have the Blu-rays, but if you have a shiny new 4K TV and you want to show it off, you can do much worse than Ghostbusters.

Hail, Caesar! – I know that Hail, Caesar! has gotten pretty mixed reviews across the board, and I can understand why. Personally, I’m not even a big fan of The Coen Brothers, but I absolutely loved this movie. It’s both a love letter to classic Hollywood and a biting parody of it. While plot-wise it’s completely different, it reminds me spiritually of Robert Altman’s great The Player from the early ‘90s. The plot is a bit of a pastiche of a number of mostly-unrelated storylines that are all tied together by the movie studio corporate man trying to put out a dozen fires over the course of a couple of days, played brilliantly by Josh Brolin. Plus, the Channing Tatum dance/musical number is pure cinema gold. I would definitely check this movie out, but especially if you have an affection for the golden age of cinema.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Michael Bay gets a lot of flack for being a terrible filmmaker, but he can occasionally make good movies. 13 Hours isn’t anything special, but it’s a competent, engaging, and harrowing action film that’s more grounded in reality than most of his films. The story focuses on a small group of private contractor American security forces who choose to rescue endangered Americans when the government refuses to. It’s not a plot heavy film, but with a likable cast that includes a jacked-up John Krasinski and James Badge Dale, the film is enjoyable overall. All the Bay hallmarks are there, but it’s a much more cohesive than any of his Transformers efforts or something like Pain & Gain.

Game of Thrones: Seasons 3 & 4 Limited Steelbook Editions – Look, by now, you know if you’re a Game of Thrones fan or not. Either you’ve been sucked in by it, or you haven’t. For my money, the show is simply amazing. If it were a feature film, it would have been a whole trilogy and taken a decade to get to screen. As it is, we get amazing storylines, memorable characters, unyielding action, surprise plot twists, and much, much more. But, for those people out there who still haven’t journeyed to Westeros (or those who have but are fanatics/completists), HBO has re-released the third and fourth seasons in gorgeous new packaging that includes Steelbook cases and huge, weighty sigil magnets that you can adorn your refrigerator or file cabinet with. Beautiful.

Vinyl: The Complete First Season – I really wanted to like Vinyl. While the ‘70s aren’t an era I tend to enjoy very much, the idea of an HBO drama series about a record label in the 70s seemed right up my alley. But when the very first scene of the very first episode sees the show’s main character buying cocaine from a street dealer and getting high, you have to work that much harder to endear the character to me. I understand that that’s how a lot of the ‘70s really was, but the show might just be a bit too cynical for my tastes. It’s not bad by any means, I just think it isn’t quite up my alley.

Anomalisa – Charlie Kaufman has made a career out of crafting stories that are nearly impossible to tell… and then telling them anyway. In films like Adaptation and Being John Malkovich, Kaufman often breaks the fourth wall or veers into the meta to explore the intersection of pop culture cinema and real life. Anomalisa is his latest work and it’s gotten a lot of attention for the fact that it is made with stop-motion animation comprised of puppet-like people in all the major roles. But this is no comedy; rather it’s a meditation on life, identity, and happiness, and it has swearing, drinking, and even nudity. As with most Kaufman works, it’s rather surreal and far from concrete, so it’s worth watching if you love Kaufman works, but if you prefer more straightforward films, then steer clear of this one.

The Shannara Chronicles: Season 1 – I used to read Terry Brooks’ Shannara books when I was a kid, but I honestly haven’t picked up a fantasy novel in at least 20 years. Still, I remember being so into the Shannara books that when MTV (of all networks!) announced a full-on fantasy TV series adaptation of the books, I had to check it out. The first thing that struck me was how I don’t remember a single thing from any of the books. The second thing that struck me was the fact that – despite the fact that this show is clearly aimed at a teenage audience base – I liked it quite a bit. The show looks pretty good, has a few talented actors in the cast (and a few less so), and presents a fantasy show unlike much of what else is on the air at the moment. It might not satisfy die-hard fans of the books, but for a casual or non-reader, it’s pretty enjoyable.

Roots: The Complete Original Series – Just in time for the much-hyped new remake miniseries airing on TNT, the original, groundbreaking Roots miniseries makes its Blu-ray debut. Watching it now, it’s amazing to see that the series still holds up as a powerful piece of filmmaking. LeVar Burton is captivating as Kunta Kinte, and while the show is several hours long, it never feels bloated or dull. More to the point, Roots is a piece of American television history and also a show that represents an important part of actual important history, so I’m glad to see it get some home video appreciation. There are also a number of new extra features that are a nice bonus for people who may already own the series on DVD or VHS.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • The Confirmation – This little-known movie stars Clive Owen, who has suddenly remembered he can act, and act well. The film is by the writer of Nebraska, so if you’ve seen that movie you’ll get some idea of the tone at play here. Is it a comedic drama or a dramatic comedy? The answer is yes. Owen plays an alcoholic father whose life spirals out of control one weekend when he has custody of his eight-year-old son (in a terrific performance by Jaeden Lieberher.) There is a bit of a faith-based underlying theme here, but it’s subtle and not as blatantly a Christian film as something like God’s Not Dead or Fireproof.
  • Rick and Morty: The Complete Second Season – Ugh. I’ve heard Rick & Morty compared to everything from Back to the Future to Doctor Who to Futurama to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and in reality, it’s kind of a mash-up of all of those things, just in animated form and with a seriously PG-13 sense of humor. Unfortunately, it’s also terrible. I know people love it, and the show has a serious fan following, but I just don’t understand why. I find it incredibly annoying to watch and not funny in the slightest. Sigh.
  • Mr. Right – Anna Kendrick and Sam Rockwell star in this charming comedy about a girl who finally meets Mr. Right, only to find out that he’s a hired assassin. It’s not the most original idea in the world, but it doesn’t matter. Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick are two of the most talented actors working today and their chemistry on screen is fantastic. This isn’t the best movie ever, but it’s a lot of fun and it’s worth watching.
  • Rizzoli & Isles: Season 6 – I’ve actually only ever watched a few episodes of Rizzoli & Isles before, so I felt a little weird coming into Rizzoli & Isles: Season 6 with little former knowledge of the show. But the show is easy to get into, and quite enjoyable. Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander are terrific as an odd couple police detective and medical examiner who are best friends but complete opposites. The cases are compelling, the actors have a lot of chemistry, and I found it pretty enjoyable overall.
  • Touched With Fire – I’m not going to try and comment on whether this film handles mental issues in an accurate manner, although it seems to have its heart in the right place. Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby play a young man and women who independently end up in a mental health facility for bipolar disorder, and of course, they connect. It’s not a bad film, but with a running time of almost two hours, it definitely felt a bit long to me. Both Holmes and Kirby turns in strong performances, and the film is a solid effort overall, even if it isn’t really my cup of tea.
  • Jarhead 3: The Siege – I actually liked Jarhead 3; it’s a solid war movie with a good cast, even if Scott Adkins is in it. My big problem with it is in continuing to call it a Jarhead movie. The first Jarhead movie, which I absolutely love, is all about the frustration of soldiers in a war zone with no war to fight. It is the very antithesis of an action film. Jarhead 3 (and the second one), however, is as straight-up of an actioner as they come. And it’s a good one, but I wish it had just come out under its own name. Still, definitely worth checking out.
  • The Spoils Before Dying – The quick follow-up to The Spoils of Babylon, a parody film that was released a few months ago, is a six-episode miniseries. This time out, Will Ferrell portrays Eric Jonrosh, an auteur who introduces the adaptation of his jazz-infused bestselling novel. It’s silly, funny stuff, but the cast of comedy-all stars is the main attraction here. It includes Kristen Wiig, Tim Robbins, Maya Rudolph, Tim Meadows, Molly Shannon, Haley Joel Osment, Michael Sheen, and plenty of other familiar faces. I don’t know that it needed to be six episodes long rather than just a feature-length movie, but it’s pretty funny overall.
  • Kill Your Friends – Nicholas Hoult (always terrific) stars in this interesting film that’s ultimately just a British rehash of American Psycho. Hoult is terrific as always, and I liked his breaking of the forth wall, but the film feels just a bit too similar — at least spiritually — to really capture the attention. Still, ultimately it’s more entertaining than not, so it’s worth a watch if you’re bored one night.
  • IMAX: Journey to Space – Released on Blu-ray and the new 4K HD format, this IMAX documentary film is narrated by Patrick Stewart and runs 45 minutes, like most IMAX-exclusive films do. What’s nice is how much is packed into a short running time, with both fascinating explanations of how things like the Space Shuttle and Space Station have furthered the world of space travel as well as footage that lets the beauty and enormity of space and the Earth really sink in and impact you.
  • Altered Minds – I first came across Ryan O’Nan a few years ago in a movie called The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best, which ended up making my Top 10 list for the year. I really liked him in it and I’ve tried to keep an eye out for him since, so I was excited to see him co-starring in this thriller with no less than Judd Hirsch. As for the film itself, it’s not great, but it’s not bad either. O’Nan plays a man who is plagued by nightmare visions who tries to get his father to confess to performing psychological experiments on young family members. It’s the kind of film we’ve seen before plenty of times, but O’Nan and Hirsch are terrific together on screen. Worth a look, but not a slam dunk.
  • The Funhouse Massacre – It’s Halloween night and you’re trapped in a funhouse with Robert Englund, Jere Burns, Clint Howard, and Courtney Gains. Sounds like fun, right? I mean, here’s the thing: the film’s description actually uses the words “rag-tag group of teenagers,” which I think gives you a pretty clear picture of what kind of territory we’re in here. Now, that said, there’s a certain amount of fun to be had here, especially for die-hard horror hounds. There’s plenty of gore, some creative kills, and the aforementioned rag-tag teenagers are at least mildly interesting characters before they start getting killed off.
  • One More Time – Christopher Walken and Amber Heard star in this film which I hadn’t even heard of before the DVD came across my desk. After watching the film, I can kind of see why. I like the idea of Walken playing an aging Rat Pack–style crooner who wallows in his misspent past, and I’m always happy to watch Amber Heard in anything. But the film itself – which sees heard as Walken’s punk-rock daughter, at odds with her father and her sister – just isn’t all that interesting. There’s nothing overtly bad about it, it just all kind of seems like we’ve seen it before. Good performances, though, so worth a watch if you like the cast.
  • Monsterland – Nine short horror films make up the bulk of Monsterland, which is wrapped up in a framing story about a man escaping the monster apocalypse in a movie theater. As with pretty much every anthology genre film I’ve ever seen, this one is a mixed bag. There are a few shorts I liked and a few more that I didn’t. The animated and puppet short films didn’t do much for me, but I did like a couple of the more comedic ones. Sure, there’s some talent at work here but it’s a lot to sit through for just a few good short films.
  • Never Back Down: No Surrender – Never Back Down was a movie that most people disliked that I loved. It was basically The Karate Kid meets Fight Club meets The O.C. This movie has nothing to do with that one whatsoever. In fact, I think they just slapped the NBD moniker on it at the last moment. Still, it was written by and stars Michael Jai White, who I do like quite a bit, and as far as generic action films go, it isn’t half bad. There’s nothing original about it, but I’ve seen worse.
  • A War – From the director of the acclaimed A Hijacking, this war film (creatively titled, as was A Hijacking) is not just an action movie, it’s also a family drama. While we follow a soldier and his unit in Afghanistan under heavy fire by local militias, we also see the effects of a patriarch away at war as we see what is happening with his wife and kids at home. It’s a powerful film with strong performances, but be aware that it is a Danish film and you will have to watch it in subtitles (unless you’re fluent in Danish, of course.)
  • Sofia The First: The Secret Library – Disney’ Jr.s popular animated series gets collected onto a new DVD with Sofia the First: The Secret Library. While the last DVD release of Sofia the First featured a guest appearance by Rapunzel of Tangled (which I’m a big fan of), this one doesn’t have any stunt casting, but that doesn’t mean that kids won’t still love it. Little girls should be thrilled with this latest DVD, and some parents will be, too.
  • The Alcatraz Escape – Alcatraz is infamous for being one of the most impenetrable prisons in the world, well-known for being impossible to escape from. In this fascinating hour-long documentary, we follow the journey of the three men who did escape from Alcatraz: Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin, and John Anglin. But rather than just re-enactments and talking heads, this program uses new science like 3D models to determine what might have happened to the three escapees. While definitive answers are obviously not forthcoming, it’s still a riveting program from start to finish.

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