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Out This Week (In The US): Lights Out, Independence Day: Resurgence & more


lights out

Independence Day: Resurgence 4K Ultra HD – I so so SO wanted to like this movie more than I did. Despite the fact that everyone has taken to nitpicking the original Independence Day over the years (yes, you can’t plug a human computer into an alien one; who cares?), I’ve always really enjoyed it. And I also always thought it was ripe for a sequel. Unfortunately, Independence Day: Resurgence is not the sequel I wanted it to be. It’s not like it’s a bad movie per se, but the script is really weak, the dialogue and jokes don’t work, and there are flaws throughout. While I appreciate that they brought the original cast back, Judd Hirsch’s character serves literally no purpose in the film, and Will Smith’s Steven Hiller is sorely missed. I did enjoy the climax of the film (I won’t spoil it here), and there is SOME fun to be had, but it’s definitely a sadly weak sequel to a really fun film. I will, say however, that the 4K Ultra HD release is a thing of beauty. This is the kind of film that was made to be seen in the highest resolution possible, and it looks utterly amazing. If you’re 4K capable and you’re going to pick up this movie, do it it in the 4K format.

Alice Through the Looking Glass – The good news is that Alice Through the Looking Glass is probably a slightly better film than Tim Burton’s predecessor, Alice in Wonderland. The bad news is that I absolutely abhorred Alice in Wonderland, so saying that this movie is better really isn’t saying much. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I liked this movie, I just hated it less than the original. The special effects are good, so that’s one positive I can say, but this franchise is a take on the Alice in Wonderland stories that I just don’t care for. I think the fact that this movie bombed so hard at the box office despite the success of the original proves that it was a pretty terrible movie; just because people paid to see it in theaters doesn’t mean they liked it.

Ice Age: Collision Course – The Ice Age franchise might finally be running its course. The past few movies have been declining in US box office receipts, but they’ve been massive successes overseas. This latest film didn’t do very well in the US, and it definitely saw a decline in the rest of the world as well. Is it the film’s fault? Not entirely. It’s okay enough, but like the last few films it doesn’t reach the heights of the original movie, which I love. The animation is great as always and there are some funny moments, but on the whole it just doesn’t have any real magic to it. Still, the kids will probably enjoy it for the most part, and that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?

Lights Out – I was thoroughly unimpressed with the trailer for Lights Out. Sure it looked creepy, but it also looked like every other horror movie that Hollywood has churned out over the last decade. Of course, it was a pretty solid hit, and I do like Theresa Palmer as an actor quite a bit, so I had to check it out. It turns out I was pretty much on point: it’s just like everything else Hollywood’s slapped the “horror” label on over the past ten years. That said, it’s a pretty decent horror flick overall. It’s definitely creepier than many other recent films, and the addition of Palmer and other actors with actual talent like Maria Bello and Billy Burke gives the film some street cred. If you like PG-13 horror films, you’ll probably like this one.

Nerve – Emma Roberts and Dave Franco star in this thriller clearly aimed at teenage audiences. Now, I’m not a teenager, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t g et pretty jazzed from the trailer for this film. I like these kinds of exciting, tense, disposable thrillers. Plus, I really like Dave Franco, and Emma Roberts has been pretty good in the things I’ve seen her in. And ultimately, Nerve is pretty good, but that’s all it is. I was hoping to really get sucked into the film, but it’s clearly aimed squarely at a millennial audience (the editing and graphics are a big part of this) and while the movie is fun, there really isn’t much substance to it. Still, it’s a fun enough way to kill 90 minutes. The younger you are, the more you’ll probably enjoy it.

The Exorcist IIIThe Exorcist is one of the most important and iconic horror films of all time. Hell, it got nominated for multiple Academy Awards, and that just never happens with horror films. The sequels, however, are largely forgotten, ignored, and disrespected by most audiences. The Exorcist II, which came out just two years after the original, was largely despised by audiences and critics alike. It took another 13 years for a third sequel to materialize, and this third film was written and directed by William Peter Blatty, who wrote the original book the first film was based on. Interestingly, this film was based on another of his films, and was not intended by Blatty to be another Exorcist sequel. This film acts as a sequel to the first film, ignoring the events of The Exorcist II completely. Blatty has said over the years that the finished film was not what he wanted, and so now we get the Director’s Cut. Did you get all that? The end result is a film that – while not as classic as the original movie – is easily the best of the sequels and a pretty good film in its own right. I don’t know that the director’s cut improves it all that much over the original cut, but it’s interesting to see a closer version of Blatty’s original vision.

Miami Vice: The Complete Series & Knight Rider: The Complete Series – Mill Creek Home Entertainment specializes in bringing out affordable television and movies, many of which have been available before in more expensive or more expansive editions. Now they’ve released two new DVD collections that are much more affordable (and shelf-friendly) for fans of classic ‘80s television: Miami Vice: The Complete Series and Knight Rider: The Complete Series. Now, these are both shows that I grew up watching, and I’ve always loved them both. Do they hold up? Not at all! I can’t imagine modern audiences watching them for the first time and thinking these are great shows (well, maybe more Miami Vice than Knight Rider.) But that’s not who these sets are for. Do they hold up for people who watched them back in the day? Absolutely! Miami Vice was one of the most iconic and culturally influencing shows of the 80’s. It made Don Johnson a household name, it completely changed the fashion industry, and it was the most popular show on television. And it only lasted five seasons? That’s an amazingly fast turnaround for a show that exploded into mega-success. In the end, Miami Vice flared extremely brightly, but faded out as almost everything inevitably does. Still, this collection is a nice tribute to that series. Knight Rider was a much more family-friendly show, and who didn’t love KITT, the coolest car in the world? Like Miami Vice, Knight Rider exploded in popularity and then faded out quickly, but it’s still such a relevant part of pop culture. There’s a reason for that. Both of these box sets are a real treat for fans.

Nighthawks – I was beyond thrilled to see this movie arrive on Blu-ray from Shout Factory’s new imprint, Shout Select. Different from Scream Factory (which focuses solely on horror films), this label is meant to showcase hit films, underappreciated gems, and cult classics in the best format possible. The reason I was so excited to get this film is because A) I’m a huge Sylvester Stallone fan, and B) this is one of the extremely few Stallone films I’ve never seen. In this early outing from his circa-Rocky days, Rutger Hauer plays a terrorist and Stallone and Billy Dee Williams are the police men who must stop him from reigning his fury on New York City. While it was never the big hit that his later films would be, it’s actually a pretty damn good flick, and it has a terrific supporting cast that also includes Lindsay Wagner and Persis Khambatta (from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.) This is one that’s worth tracking down, especially if you’re a Stallone fan.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby – Because it’s been 10 years, we needed a new version of Talladega Nights, apparently. I like this movie, but I don’t love it, and even revisiting it some years down the road didn’t change that opinion for me. Talladega Nights is a mildly amusing but ultimately silly movie that is funny in patches. When you laugh, you laugh out loud, but more often you’re left wondering why the director let some scenes go on as long as he did. It’s one of the downfalls of this style of ad-lib comedy; I maintain that the movies are never as funny as the talent think they are because an ad-lib that might have seemed hilarious on-set isn’t as funny in the finished product. Overall, Talladega Nights will make you laugh, but not nearly as much as you expect it to. People who enjoy dumbed down comedies and/or Nascar will probably find a little more to enjoy with this film, though. Ricky Bobby says, “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” Well, if you ain’t funny, you’re just another mediocre comedy.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 4K Ultra HD – I like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Now that might seem obvious, but I say that mostly to clarify that – while I do enjoy the film – I don’t LOVE it. It’s certainly not what I would consider a favorite. That said, watching the film in 4K Ultra HD is an experience that revitalizes the viewing experience a bit. There’s a depth to the film that I don’t think has ever been present on home video before; it reminded me of my experience watching it in theaters. The imagery is super clean and clear, and the colors are well saturated but still natural and never look artificial. I still wouldn’t call the movie one of my favorites, but I enjoyed watching it a hell of a lot more than I expected to.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – This is one of those movies that I was ecstatic to see on Warner’s print-on-demand WB Archive service, especially since it’s been released on Blu-ray. The fact is, it’s a movie that I’d never seen until this disc came across my desk. I’d always heard it was really good, but somehow had just never gotten around to seeing it. Starring Kevin Spacey and John Cusack (and directed by Clint Eastwood), the film is a moody and atmospheric study in character that masquerades as a murder mystery, although that quickly takes a back seat to Cusack exploring the surreal world of Savannah and the residents that live there. It’s not that the kind of movie that’s going to appeal to the popcorn crowd, as it’s deliberately paced and is much more about atmosphere and characters than events or action, but it’s definitely worth watching, especially now that it’s available on Blu-ray.
  • Skiptrace – Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville co-starring in an action comedy? Sure, I can get behind that. But what really interested me in watching Skiptrace (besides the fact that I’ve always enjoyed Jackie Chan quite a bit) is that it’s directed by Renny Harlin, the man behind such gems as Deep Blue Sea, Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2, and The Long Kiss Goodnight. Unfortunately, Harlin’s career over the past decade has been littered with more misses than hits, but I find that I still generally enjoy his movies. And so I watched Skiptrace, which is kinda-sorta an attempt to recapture the success of Chan’s Rush Hour movies. However, Skiptrace doesn’t quite get there. The jokes are lacking, and the chemistry between Knoxville and Chan – while not nonexistent – is unimpressive. I’ve seen worse movies, but you’re not missing anything if you skip this one.
  • Teen Wolf: Season 5, Part 2 – When Teen Wolf debuted on MTV, I watched the first few episodes, and I thought it was a decent enough show, but it wasn’t so addicting that I had to watch it. But I’ve started watching the show when it comes to DVD and while I still don’t count myself as truly Teen Wolf obsessed, I can certainly understand why the core viewing audience of teenagers enjoy it. I can also say that I’m very impressed by the storytelling. This is a show that airs on MTV; it could easily have been a throwaway monster-a-week show starring Paris Hilton or a Kardashian. But instead, the show tackles numerous social issues, and has worked hard to really develop a complex and thorough mythology. It’s much more Vampire Diaries or Buffy the Vampire Slayer than it is My Super Sweet Sixteen Wolf. Teen Wolf is a solid show that’s really creating its own little universe. I don’t recommend trying to jump into the middle of the season, but if you’re caught up, this set is a must-have for fans.
  • Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans – It’s no secret that I’m not an overly huge fan of documentaries, but you give me a good, solid documentary about Hollywood and I’m all in. This film documents Steve McQueen’s obsession with race car driving and how that consumed him while he created the racing film Le Mans, which was a disaster and which damaged his career. It’s a fascinating story, and there’s plenty of footage of McQueen, giving the film a legitimate feel. It’s also a little more warts-and-all than any studio-produced piece that might an extra feature on a McQueen DVD might be. Definitely worth tracking down.
  • Men & Chicken – Okay. So, I don’t know if I can explain this movie. I can tell you that it stars Mads Mikkelson, and it’s about half-brothers who are surprised to find out that they’re adopted and go off in search of their real father. But this isn’t some dark family drama, instead it’s a black comedy of sorts, although I have to say that I didn’t find it overly funny myself. I can kind of see what the film was going for, and maybe it works better in its native Danish culture. The film is quirky and odd (which I think any movie called Men & Chicken kind of has to be), and I think there’s definitely an audience out there for it. I’m just not that audience.
  • On Dangerous Ground – Nicholas Ray doesn’t seem to be one of the more remembered directors from the golden age of Hollywood, but over the last few years I’ve become a pretty big fan. Movie like Dying of the Light with Humphrey Bogart and b with James Dean, he had a real knack for making films with some grit and edge to them. This film noir movie by Ray stars Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan, neither of whom were ever the biggest stars in Hollywood. While it might not be the apex of Ray’s career, it’s still a cut above many other offerings from the same era. The film is tough and has some great scenery, and it’s another feather in Nicholas Ray’s cap.
  • The Guyver/The Guyver 2 – From Warner’s print-on-demand Warner Archive comes two movies that will appeal to a very select group of movie watchers. Based on a very popular manga/anime series in the 1980s, The Guyver was an attempt to cash in on its popularity in live-action form. Unfortunately, the film has a budget of about 35 cents, and while the look of the Guyver itself is pretty cool, there’s no denying the whiff of cheese that’s in every frame of the film. Luckily, Mark Hamill is there to at least try and give fans something to latch onto. The second movie, however, doesn’t even offer Hamill for fans, and it’s definitely a step down from the original. That said, as someone who tracked these movies down in the early 90s, there’s a definite nostalgia charge that I got out of watching them, and I’m sure there will be a lot of other fans who have a similar reaction.
  • Ancient Aliens: Season 9 – For my money, Ancient Aliens is an interesting but flawed show. I’ve been fascinated by UFO’s, aliens, and unsolved mysteries of that variety since I was a kid, so this was naturally of interest to me. This DVD release collects season nine, with the usual focus on Ancient Astronauts and other UFO-related materials. If you’re not familiar with that term, it’s a theory first posited in a book in the 1970s called Chariots of the Gods that theorizes that aliens visited earth in the distant past, building the pyramids and creating the Nazca lines, and things like that. This show explores everything surrounding the possibility of aliens visiting earth in the past, and while some of it comes off as the theories of crazy people, most of it is approached from an academic point of view. Ancient Aliens is interesting stuff, but as always, the lack of concrete answers can get frustrating, keeping this from being a show I can really enjoy.
  • Bruce Lee: Tracking The Dragon – There’s no shortage of documentaries about Bruce Lee, but this one is a little bit different. Created by and featuring author John Little (who’s written some of the more renowned books on Lee) decided not to make just another career retrospective documentary, but instead decided to travel to the locations where Lee’s movies were filmed and took place, to see how they look today and show us how Lee used these amazing locations to drive the action in his films. As a Bruce Lee aficionado (who stops short of being a die-hard fan), I found this film enjoyable overall, even if it’s probably not going to be exactly what some fans will be looking for.
  • The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast: 17-Disc Limited Edition Box Set – This massive 17-disc Blu-ray box set includes a ton of low-budget exploitation B-movies that you have probably never heard of. Hell, I’ve never heard of most of them, and I consider myself a pretty hardcore movie geek. Still, with names like Blood Feast, Scum of the Earth, Two Thousand Maniacs!, Moonshine Mountain, and Color Me Blood Red, I think you can guess what you’re getting into. Lewis was a master of exploitation and sleaze, and these films encapsulate much of his career. It’s hard to say there are any really great movies in this collection (admittedly, I didn’t watch all 17 of them), but if you’re looking for a very particular breed of B-movie, this set will satisfy that craving. I also applaud Arrow Video for putting the set out on Blu-ray, which I’m sure fans will appreciate.
  • The Id – Less of a horror film proper and more of a psychological thriller, The ID deals with a daughter who has to face off against the one man she’s most terrified of: her abusive father. This isn’t some slasher flick or cheesy knock-off-victims-while-nobody-notices-what’s-going-on movie. Instead, it deals with a complicated psyche, fragile emotions, and some dark subtext. It’s not a bad film, and while it didn’t blow me away, it’s got some good moments and is worth a look if you like indie films.
  • Doc McStuffins: Toy Hospital – Doc McStuffins is a popular Disney Junior show for the pre-school set that’s really cute. My kids used to enjoy it quite a bit when they were younger. Doc McStuffins is a little girl who interacts with her stuffed animals that basically come alive in a Toy Story fashion. Every episode, one of them is ailed by something like a missing button, a tear, or fear of the dark, which Doc McStuffins quickly fixes. Mostly she fixes them by singing to them, but the musical numbers are cute and not too frequent, so it’s not too bad. Doc McStuffins is a cute, harmless Disney show that younger kids will enjoy quite a bit, and this latest DVD collection comes with a good number of episodes and a cute pack-in toy as well.
  • India: Nature’s Wonderland – This two-hour documentary eschews the issues India faces with its overcrowding and poverty and instead focuses on the copious beauty that is rampant (and often overlooked) in the country. From the amazing wildlife to the beautiful scenery, India is a country with a lot to offer, and this program explores some of the most fascinating facets of what it has to offer. You know if you like this kind of feature or not, and if you do, this one is definitely worth watching.
  • Simple Gifts: The Chamber Music Society at Shaker Village – Okay, so chamber music isn’t exactly my thing. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a finely crafted viewing experience for fans of the genre. This Live from Lincoln Center special takes its cameras on the road to the annual festival in Kentucky that takes place on an actual Shaker Village. But what makes this program impressive is the camera work the interesting angles you see the performances from ,and the interstitial material, which includes interviews with the musicians and some historical information. If chamber music IS your thing, check this out.
  • Who’s Driving Doug?Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte stars in this coming-of-age tale about a wheelchair bound college student who hires a driver to take him on a spur-of-the-moment road trip to get away from his overbearing mother. Along the way… well, all the things you’d expect to happen in an independent drama film pretty much happen. The film has some really great moments, but it also has some moments where the pacing slows down a bit. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s an engaging story and it has some real heart at the center of it.
  • All Work All Play – Okay, I will admit that the idea of watching other people play video games is still something I can’t quite wrap my head around. But this compelling documentary at least makes a decent case for it, as it tells us the story of the Intel Extreme Masters, a video game tournament where players around the world compete in virtual sports, and people gather by the millions online to watch these events. It’s pretty fascinating, as are the stories of the young people who are attempting to “go pro” by winning money playing video games. This clearly isn’t the world I inhabit, but isn’t that what makes for the best documentaries?
  • 78 Project Movie – Speaking of things I’m not into, vinyl certainly has to qualify. There’s nothing wrong with listening to vinyl in theory, but as someone who mostly listens to music while driving or working, the idea of putting on a vinyl record and having to flip it over halfway through is weird to me. Maybe if I owned a smoking jacket and a lounge chair… Anyway, this film isn’t really about vinyl records. It’s about a journey across America where musicians are enlisted to record a song using a 1930s Presto direct-to-disc recorder, which means they have one microphone, one disc, and one take to record a song and have it preserved forever. It’s a pretty interesting little film, and die-hard musicphiles (and – I suspect – collectors of vinyl) will really enjoy it.
  • The Idol – Yep, there is an Arab Idol, and this movie tells us the story of a real-life winner of the show, and the challenges they had to go up against to win a singing competition in a part of the world where things like televised singing competitions are not just a flash-in-the-pan part of pop culture. Despite the subtitles, it’s easy to see that the cast is very good and the story is quite interesting. And I like that it’s a dramatized version of the story rather than just another documentary. Worth a look if you like foreign films.
  • Be Somebody – Well, as I’ve had to express a few times in this column already, I’m old, so there are things I’m just not as up on as “the kids” are. One of them is Matthew Espinosa who is apparently a social media superstar (YouTube and all that) who is now making movies. And here he plays a Bieber-esque musician who accidentally gets left off his tour bus in a small town, where he meets a cute girl who teaches him Lessons About How Real Life Works. I guess if you’re a 15-year-old Espinosa fan, you might enjoy this, but he’s not a great actor and the film had little to offer an old guy like me.
  • Advanced Style – based on the popular blog and book by street photographer Ari Seth Cohen and director Lina Piloplyte, this film follows a group of senior citizen ladies in New York City who are redefining themselves through high fashion and becoming quite popular for it. Now, I’m not into fashion, but this isn’t a movie about fashion per se. It’s about vitality and being yourself no matter what age you are, and in that respect, it’s quite charming.
  • The Midnight Swim – Is The Midnight Swim a horror film? A melodrama? An art house film? The answer is yes! This is the kind of film that I think a lot of people who are expecting an actual horror movie are going to hate, and people who are looking for a drama with some psychological elements that has a heavy hand in the arthouse world will absolutely love. Personally, it’s not quite my cup of tea, but there is definitely an audience for it. Just make sure you go into it with the right expectations.
  • Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict – Another documentary in an already documentary-heavy week, this movie focuses on, well, Peggy Guggenheim. Don’t worry, I didn’t know who she was either. Apparently, she’s one of the foremost art collectors and curators in the world, having influenced the art world for decades now. Once again we have a film in which I just have very little interest in the subject matter. It’s a solid film, but it wasn’t interesting enough to win me over completely. If you’re into art and the art scene, however, you’ll likely eat it up.
  • Gored – Antonio Barrera is apparently known as “the most gored bullfighter in history,” which, frankly, is not a title I would want. This film follows Barrera as he decides to go into the bullfighting ring one last time as the twilight sets on his storied career. At the risk of repeating myself, this is a good film but I don’t have a lot of interest in bullfighting or the world surrounding it. I did find this movie more engaging than a few of the other documentaries out this week, but I can’t say you really need to rush right out and track it down, either.
  • Last of the Mississippi Jukes – One more documentary. This one is from Robert Mugge, who specializes in films about blues, zydeco, and other forms of music I don’t listen to. This is one of his more interesting films, as it explores the dying Mississippi juke joints where blues music was born. More than just about the music, this film touches on the locations, the history, and the people that populated blues music and how they are disappearing form the Mississippi delta. Interesting stuff overall.
  • Tales Of Poe – Okay, so ostensibly, this movie is a remake of three stories by Edgar Allen Poe: The Tell Tale Heart, Cask of Amontillado & Dreams. In reality, it’s a low budget horror anthology film that retells some of Poe’s more popular stories in a way that’s different from what we’ve seen much of before. These stories are like art-house horror movies, filled with surreal imagery and artistic license. The acting is a bit weak at times, which works against the film, but this is more than just a cheap slasher update. Interesting. I don’t now if it all works, but fans of Poe’s might appreciate it.

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