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Out This Week (In The US): Cabin Fever, By The Sea and more

by the sea

Cabin Fever – I’m pretty sure Cabin Fever didn’t need a remake, and I’m even more sure that even if it did, this film wasn’t it. Gone is any of the charm of the original despite the fact that this film was co-written and produced by Eli Roth, who also directed the original. The characters here are paper-thin, the actors are bland and charmless, and the gore quotient has been upped considerably. Add in an expanded hillbilly antagonist subplot, and the whole thing is just a dreary mess. And about the point when one of the characters tells the hillbilly guy that his special needs son — who admittedly bit one of our main characters — “should wear a sign to warn regular people,” I pretty much knew exactly what kind of movie this was going to be. Ugh.

House of Cards: Season 4 – By now you must have heard the deafening hype about House of Cards. If you still haven’t seen it then the real question is, is the show any good? First things first: this is a political drama, and it’s heavy on the politics. If you don’t have at least a cursory interest in the goings-on in Washington, DC, you will likely get a little lost at times. But this multiple-character look at the machinations, backstabbing, dirty dealing, and corruption in our natiuon’s capital is engaging, engrossing stuff. At the forefront of it all is Kevin Spacey, who is far and away the main character of this multi-character epic. His character, Frank Underwood lets us in on how things really work in Washington. Quite literally, too, as he breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to viewers throughout each episode. And Spacey is magnetic here; this is some of the finest acting he’s done in years. Various other politicians (and their wives), journalists, and other people climbing the political ladder all make up part of the ensemble, and the whole thing blends together into an addictive, powerful show.

How to Get Away with Murder: Season 2 – The advertising for this show makes a big deal about the fact that it’s from the producer of Scandal. And that handprint is everywhere to be seen all over this show. It’s over-the-top, ridiculous, chaotic, and requires no small amount of suspension of disbelief. And I loved every minute of the first season. This used to be one of those shows where you just go along for the ride, and the central mystery would keep you guessing right up to the very end. The second season, however, effectively killed what used to be a lot of fun. Now, every character is pretty much a murderer, everyone’s a whiner or an amoral jackass, and there’s just nobody left to root for. I can’t remember the last time I watched a show I liked go downhill this quickly.

By the Sea – Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt star in this critically-savaged drama that was also written and directed by Jolie. Now, I’ve seen Angelina Jolie’s previous two films, and they were both solid if not spectacular films. By the Sea, however, well… I can see why critics didn’t have much good to say about it. It’s like a more depressing version of the DiCaprio/Winslet drama Revolution Road, and lord knows that wasn’t a cheerful one. The film is two hours of gorgeous-looking ennui, and I just found it incredibly dull and self-satisfying. I have to say you should avoid this one unless you’re a Pitt/Jolie completist.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • The Pack – While the cover might lead you to think this is a werewolf film, it’s actually a movie about a family in the outback trapped on their homestead by a pack of vicious wolves. It’s exactly the kind of movie I love: a small group of outmatched people up against circumstances which they have little hope of surviving. With great pacing, true suspense, and some sharp action sequences, this tense thriller is a lot of fun. And kudos for the use of real wives as much as possible, and not filling the movie with CGI lookalikes that are so fake it hurts. This one is worth tracking down.
  • Only Yesterday – I’ve been a pretty vocal critic of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki’s films in the past. But this Ghibli outing from 1991 (making its US debut and with the main character voiced by Rey herself, Daisy Ridley) was directed by Isao Takahata, who also directed the beloved Grave of the Fireflies. It’s a simple story about a young woman whose life isn’t where she wants it to be and her recollections of her life and where it went “wrong.” There are no flying castles or talking buckets or any of the usual Ghibli trademarks that I don’t like, and its a simple but moving film. Worth a watch.
  • The Adderall Diaries – An all star cast populates this drama: James Franco, Amber Heard,, Christian Slater, Ed Harris, Wilmer Valderrama, and Cynthia Nixon all pop up. The film is a drama about memory, murder, and prescription drugs, and despite some good performances (including Franco in the lead role), the film isn’t as dramatic or as intense as it wants to be. It’s melodrama lite, and while I’ve seen worse, it’s not something you probably need to go out of your way for.
  • Search Party – I like TJ Miller and Thomas Middleditch (both from HBO’s excellent Silicon Valley), but I knew what I was getting into with this movie; it’s a knock-off of The Hangover. And I hated The Hangover. So this movie… not so great. Yes there are a few laughs to be had, but mostly its lowest common denominator humor, and worse it’s humor we’ve seen before. I guess if you love The Hangover movies, you’ll get a kick out of this one, so that’s something.
  • Term Life – Vince Vaughn as an action star? Even if it is a direct-to-video movie, I’m interested. Term Life is an unoriginal, uninspired action film… but it’s not a bad film. It’s basically what you expect from these DTV videos with big name casts (alongside Vaughn are Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Hailee Steinfeld, and Bill Paxton), but I found that I enjoyed it more than I didn’t. It’s certainly nothing special, but for a decent way to kill 90 minutes, I’ve definitely seen worse.
  • Precious Cargo – Mark Paul Gosselaar as an action star? Even if it is a direct-to-video movie, I’m interested. Precious Cargo is an unoriginal, uninspired action film… but unlike Term Life above, this one is pretty bad. Gosselaar is just fine in the lead role, but Bruce Willis is barely even in the film. That seems to be how he’s making his living these days: he puts his name on a DTV action film, shows up for a day of shooting, collects his paycheck, and moves on. What a shame.
  • Vigilante Diaries – Jason Mewes (of Jay and Silent Bob fame) as an action star? Even if it is a direct-to-video movie, I’m interested. Vigilante Diaries is an unoriginal, uninspired action film… actually, scratch that. It may not be original, but it is inspired: inspired to make an over-the-top action film on a limited budget and with stars like Michael Jai White, Michael Madsen, and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson along for the ride. It’s not great, but it’s not bad, either. It’s a bit silly and a bit too much, but that’s part of the fun.
  • Dear Eleanor – Patrick Schwarzenegger as an action star? Even if it is a direct-to-video movie, I’m interested. Dear Eleanor is an… okay, it’s not an action film at all. And Patrick Schwarzenegger isn’t really the star of the film, either. This is really a coming-of-age road trip movie about two young girls on a trip to try and meet Eleanor Roosevelt. Arnie’s son (you didn’t think the name was a coincidence, did you?) plays a supporting role, as do Jessica Alba, Josh Lucas, and Ione Skye. It’s not cinematic genius, but it’s a cute little film.
  • The Mermaid – Yes, THIS is the the movie that’s become the highest grossing film of all time in China, When you consider what a box office powerhouse China has become in the film markets, that’s more than a little remarkable. Directed by Stephen Chow (of Kung Fu Hustle fame), the film starts off as a rom-com before ending up something of an action spectacle. The film is about mermaids, yes, and it also has an environmental message to it. I liked the film overall, but do I understand why it was such a phenomenon over there? Not really.
  • The Family Fang – I really enjoyed Jason Bateman’s first directorial effort, Bad Words. So I automatically jumped at the chance to watch this film, which also stars Nicole Kidman and Christopher Walken. The movie itself is something of black comedy/drama, or a black dramedy, I guess. It’s not as strong a film overall as Bad Words was, but it’s clear that Bateman has some talent behind the camera.
  • Vicious: The Finale – Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi star in the British comedy Vicious: The Finale, playing a gay couple who have been together for 50 years and bicker like, well, like an old married couple. Funny, sharp, and biting, watching McKellen play a shallower version of himself is terrific, and he and Jacobi are fantastic together. It’s too bad this is the end of the show.
  • Hollywood in Vienna: The World of James Horner – The late James Horner was one of the greatest film score composers of the 20th century. This concert video includes some of Horner’s most famous scores, including Titanic, Star Trek II, Avatar, and Braveheart. There’s also a 75-minute discussion about film scores (his own and others) with Horner himself from before his death. For a Horner fan, this is nirvana, but even if you just love movies, I can’t recommend this highly enough.
  • Me & My Mates Vs the Zombie Apocalypse – Okay, there’s no denying that this is an Australian version of Shaun of the Dead, but there are enough differences to feel more like an “inspired by” and less like a rip-off. The plot is pretty obvious by this point, but I did find some good laughs and the zombie action is solid. It won’t replace SOTD as the king of the zom-coms anytime soon, but it’s at least worth a watch.
  • Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe – Asian action cinema can be hit or miss, but I like a lot of it. What I get tired of is the incessant stream of period action epics. So when I had the chance to watch a modern-set action spectacle with giant monsters in it, well I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, this one just isn’t very good. The action sequences are okay, but the script, direction, and acting all come up way short. A big disappointment.
  • The Levenger Tapes – This week seems to be the week of derivative knock offs. While not exactly a rip-off of The Blair Witch Project, this found footage-style film definitely takes a heavy cue from it. Admittedly, I’ve seen worse found footage films but I’ve also seen better. For a low-budget flick, it’s not terrible, but the fact that it was made in 2011 and is being released in 2016 should tell you something.
  • Electra Woman & Dyna Girl – Internet superstars Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart star in this update of the classic ’70s Sid & Marty Krofft TV show for kids. It’s part parody, part social commentary, part comedy, and it’s pretty darn good. The humor is biting, the snark is turned up high, and it manages to parody a classic without making fun of it, if you know what I mean. I’ve never watched Helbig or Hart in anything before, but they certainly make a good case here for why they’re internet famous.
  • 600 Miles – I’ve always liked Tim Roth, and this film was a welcome chance to see him in action. Only, action seems to be lacking in this film. While there are moments of violence, there are also lots of scenes with the camera just lingering on a scene with no dialogue. Frankly, it’s a bit slow for my tastes, although Roth is excellent as always.
  • Emma’s Chance – It’s the monthly girl-with-a-horse family drama! This one stars Greer Grammer, Joey Lawrence, and Missi Pyle, meaning there are at least some familiar faces to be found. The story is nothing new (Girl needs to save a ranch! She falls in love with a horse! (I mean, not IN LOVE in love.)), but it does what it does well enough.
  • Hell Hunters – I wish I could say this movie was better, because it stars Stewart Granger (an actor I love from the classic Hollywood era) and George Lazenby (once James Bond), and it deals with latter day nazis being hunted while they scheme to take over the world… or something like that. It’s a B-movie through and through, but I did enjoy seeing what Lazenby and Granger were up to in the ’80s.
  • Sesame Street: Elmo’s Favorite Stories – Parents, get ready for everyone’s favorite red muppet! Sesame Street: Elmo’s Favorite Stories is a collection of several Elmo-centric episodes of the beloved show. As with most Sesme Street episodes, you get learning, letters, numbers, and fun, and in this case, lots of Elmo telling (or acting in) stories. With over two hours of content, you get a lot of bang for your buck for the little ones.
  • Peg + Cat: Out of this World – A fun way for your kids to learn is by watching Peg & Cat: Super Peg & Cat Guy. This show has becoming quite popular with kids of late, and this DVD offers up some good value; you get eight episodes and almost two hours worth of shows. And with a space flavor to some of the episodes, it’s the perfect disc to keep your kids happy while all the grown up sci-fi flicks are hitting the theaters this summer. Pretty cool!


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