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Out This Week (In The US): Kung Fu Panda 3, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Dr. Strangelove & more


Kung Fu Panda 3 – I’ve always enjoyed the Kung Fu Panda series. While none of the films have reached the upper echelons of animated greatness for me, they’re always a fun time at the very least. Kung Fu Panda 3 is definitely a strong addition to the franchise. This time around, Po and his friends travel to the land of the Pandas after Po gets reunited with his birth father. This allows for plenty of visual gags and panda-based humor. Even if the new villain isn’t terribly fresh or exciting, the film works as a whole and I enjoyed it almost as much as my kids did.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – Tina Fey, Billy Bob Thornton, and Margot Robbie star in this dramedy about a reporter covering the conflict in the middle east. Spiritually, the film reminds me a bit of Ben Stiller’s surprisingly good The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I like most of the cast and the film actually isn’t bad. Tina Fey continues to impress with her performances, this one bridging the gap between comedic and dramatic quite nicely. Plus, Margot Robbie. I feel like I should say more about that, but… Margot Robbie. Worth a watch, if nothing overly special.

Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – Stanley Kubrick’s classic masterpiece makes its long-awaited Criterion Collection debut. Peter Sellers plays three roles in this unbelievable black comedy, but most people will know if the film is worth watching already or not. What makes this edition so great — in addition to the restored and remastered picture and sound — is the bevy of extra features that is included. You get an alternate soundtrack, interviews, four documentaries, and much more. This is a must-have whether you are a Kubrick fan or not.

Eye in the Sky – Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and the late, great Alan Rickman star in this surprisingly good dramatic thriller about a drone pilot with a crisis of conscience and the international tensions that arise because of it. Paul shines in his role, and Helen Mirren is predictably excellent. Of course Alan Rickman is fantastic, although it’s bittersweet seeing him in one of his last roles. It’s a powerful reminder of how much he’ll be missed. Track this film down; even if you’re not into war movies, it’s a different kind that what you’re used to.

Two Guys And A Girl: The Complete Series – Ryan Reynolds and Nathan Fillion are the two biggest names to come out of this beloved sitcom, one which fans have been clamoring for for years. Originally called Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place, the show lasted four years and was never a huge, huge hit, but it did gain a devoted following and remains well-loved. For me — someone who never watched the show — it was really fun to go back and watch Fillion and Reynolds before they were the stars they are now. This nice box set includes the entire series, and I’m glad Shout Factory decided to do it this way instead of parsing it out over season sets.

Elstree 1976 – If the name of this terrific documentary sounds familiar to you, you might be a Star Wars fan. Elstree Studios was where much of the first film was shot back in 1976 and this film — rather than trying to be a catch-all doc — focuses on the bit players and the faces we never see. It features interviews and recollections from actors who wore costumes and masks: creatures, stormtroopers, imperial officers, and the like. It’s fascinating stuff for Star Wars fans, and it’s pretty interesting even if you’re not a die-hard. This isn’t from a major studio so it might be tricky to find, but it’s worth tracking down.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • Adventures In Babysitting – Yes, Disney remade Adventures In Babysitting. Well, “remade” is a strong word, but obviously this TV-movie is loosely on the 1980s classic starring Elizabeth Shue. This time around there are two babysitters, and while it lacks the classic charm of the original movie, I can totally see how Disney’s core audience — tweens — will eat it up. It’s cute and charming in its own way. Don’t compare it to the original — parents, I’m looking at you — and you’ll most likely enjoy it along with your kiddos.
  • Fastball – Narrated by Kevin Costner, this baseball documentary focuses on — what else? — the fastball: its history, it’s impact, and the players who used it to great success. Featuring interviews with dozens of players, many of whom I’m sure I’d know if I followed baseball in the slightest, the film is a treasure trove for fans of America’s pastime. Even as a non-baseball fan, I founf this film engrossing and that to me is the mark of a good documentary.
  • Vera: Set 6Vera: Set 6 is a terrific series of 90-minute cop/mystery dramas starring the excellent Brenda Blethyn in the lead role. While the show doesn’t really offer up anything new (gruff but effective police detective solves crimes), the show benefits from Blethyn’s performance and the show having a strong sense of identity. Each episode introduces multiple new characters and plot devices, and there is a consistent mood and tone throughout the series that is very refreshing to see. Inspired by Ann Cleeves’s bestselling mysteries, Vera is set in the Northumberland of the original books. It gives the show a different feel from a lot of the more urban set BBC dramas. And it showcases the characteristics of a lot of the best qualities of similar shows: great acting, strong scripts, and compelling mysteries. Vera features strong storytelling and strong performances, and that adds up to some quality mystery television viewing.
  • Rams – This Icelandic black comedy has gotten good marks from some critics, and I can see why. It’s offbeat and unusual but charming in its own way. Still, it’s not exactly what I’d call a mainstream movie, never mind the fact that it’s in Icelandic. However, it’s also more engaging than I expected a film about two feuding brothers (and sheep farmers) would be. Worth a look if you like outside-the-box films.
  • Rabin, The Last Day – A strong documentary outing from Kino Lorber (who specializes in this kind of thing), this film doesn’t focus exclusively on Yitzhak Rabin’s final day (before he was assassinated by a student), but it does take up most of the running time. The film explores what lead up to his death and provides a closer look at it through news footage and dramatic recreations. It’s not a flawless film, but it is interesting stuff overall.
  • The Bible Stories: Jacob & Joseph – These two new releases feature bona fide stars in medium-level productions of famous Bible tales. Matthew Modine, Lara Flynn Boyle and Sean Bean star in Jacob, while Ben Kingsley and Martin Landau star in Joseph. I’m not a regular viewer of bible-themed movies, but for people looking for religious entertainment, these are a bit more star-studded than usual.
  • Charlie Chan 3-Film CollectionThe Charlie Chan Collection is the newest Chan box set presented by Warner Brothers. Collecting three of the classic detective films (and I believe it’s the final three that needed to be released), this set is features one film starring Roland Winters as the erstwhile detective, after he had taken over for the late Sidney Toler (who stars in two films in this set). The three films in the set are The Red Dragon, The Feathered Serpent, and The Sky Dragon. Yes, they’re dated, but they do have a certain charm to them. This is a must have for fans of the Chan.
  • LEGO Friends: Always Together – Once again, the Lego animated brand caters to girls instead of boys with Lego Friends: Always Together. My daughter loves these girl-themed Lego sets, and so this CGI-animated cartoon was a lot of fun for her to watch. Not as well-known as Chima or Ninjago, but growing in popularity, parents who have girls who also like Legos will definitely want to snag this. This is the fifth or sixth release in this line, and the stories are pretty similar in territory to the Barbie animated movies or the old Mary Kate & Ashley Olson live-action movies, so they’re fun enough and also pretty harmless.
  • Embrace Of The Serpent – This challenging film is definitely not for the attention defect crowd. At just over two-minutes, it’s a dense, slow moving film that takes a fictional look at real people and their experiences among indigenous tribes in the Amazon. But this is no Apocalypto; instead, it’s a thoughtful, image-heavy treatise on western culture and native culture. I expect people interested in history and anthropology will enjoy it. For everyone else, it might be a bit too obtuse.
  • Dream/Killer – The cover of this intriguing documentary boldly and loudly compares it to Serial and The Jinx, both amazing pieces of true crime documentary storytelling. I don’t think Dream/Killer is quite on the level of those two programs, but it certainly is worth watching. It tells the story of a man who was falsely accused of a crime at the age of 19 and the fight to free him. It’s probably more for the Making a Murderer crowd, but it is a moving story that will definitely keep you engaged until the end.
  • Just Gender – This extremely timely documentary explores gender and gender identity, in a time when just going to the bathroom has become a politicized event. What I like about the film is that rather than being a dry, news-program-esque think piece, it is instead told through various personal stories of people who have gender identity history. It gives the film a much more immediate feel, and while I know the subject matter won’t appeal to everyone, for those it does appeal to it’s a worthwhile watch.


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