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Out This Week (In The US): Star Trek Beyond, Bad Mons, Pan’s Labyrinth and more

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Star Trek Beyond – I’m an old school Star Trek fan, so according to what I’ve seen on most social media sites, I’m supposed to hate the current Star Trek films. But I don’t. In fact, I really enjoy them. Now, Star Trek Beyond has some major flaws (the villains’ origins make literally almost no sense at all), but it’s still a heck of a lot of fun. It’s nice to see some more ancillary characters like Scotty and Chekhov get more screen time this time around, and I especially enjoyed seeing more of Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy, as he’s probably my favorite character in the series. The action is good, the humor is on point, and as usual, the visuals are terrific. The film feels a lot like an old episode of the show, and I mean that as a compliment. Like I said, it has its flaws, but it’s still a lot of fun.

Bad Moms – I guess you could call Bad Moms a sleeper hit, but that implies that people didn’t know it would be a hit. And maybe some people didn’t, but the minute I saw the trailer for it I knew this movie was going to be huge. I mean, aside from an awesome cast that includes Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate, and Jada Pinkett Smith, the trailer was dunny. And any movie that you can market directly to not just women, but especially moms (and yet still has appeal to men and non-parents alike), you know it’s going to do well. And the movie works because it’s incredibly funny. Sure, I’m a parent, so I get a lot of the jokes, but the humor is universal that anyone who has a mom or knows a mom can relate to most of the jokes. This is a really fun film, and I’m glad it was as successful as it was.

Pan’s Labyrinth – Guillermo del Toro is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. I think he’s one of the rare visual geniuses who also knows how to craft a terrific story and characters you care about. Without a doubt, Pan’s Labyrinth is the high watermark of his career. Beloved by critics, adored by fans, even nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, the film is universally appreciated. And while I would love to say that I’m that rare person who doesn’t like it just to be different, I can’t. The movie is fantastic, at times brutal and heartfelt, terrifying and beautiful. And now the film has earned the prestigious Criterion Collection stamp of approval, being released in a new Blu-ray edition that features some new extra features (along with copious ones from the original release) as well as being remastered and remixed (as approved by del Toro himself), all in a beautiful package. If you haven’t seen this movie, you need to, and if you have, you need to own this supreme edition of it.

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders – This is fantastic. I generally like DC’s Animated Universe movies, but the last handful of them haven’t done too much for me. I like the ones that tackle a unique storyline – like the excellent Dark Knight Returns movie – but most of the Batman ones of late (especially those with the Damian character) have been just more of the same to me. All action, no story. This newest film is basically an animated version of the 1966 Batman TV series, and it’s magical. With Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar reprising their roles as Batman, Robin, and Catwoman, respectively, the film is just a blast. It really captures the feel of the original show and it is so much more enjoyable than just another episode of Batman beating people up with no heart and no plot. Definitely check this one out.

Preacher: Season One – I’ve been a fan of the Preacher comic books since the very first issue hit the shelves back in 1994. I read the series religiously, and I’ve re-read the collected versions more than once over the years. So I was pretty excited when the show was announced, although that was tempered slightly by the involvement of Seth Rogen, of whom I’m not typically a fan. But still, I remained optimistic. Then the first advertisements started coming out annnnnd… I was extremely disappointed. I thought the ads for the show were absolutely terrible. And so I DVR-ed the entire first season, and they sat on my DVR for months and I could never bring myself to watch it. Then I got my review copy of Season One, and I had to finally take the plunge. And you know what? The ads painted exactly the right picture. The show is terrible. I really really wanted to like it, but I just think it gets everything wrong. And I’m not one of those fans who’s always like, “Oh this happened differently in the comics.” I just think it gets the tone, the spirit, and the characters all wrong. It doesn’t feel a thing like Preacher to me. I absolutely love Dominic Cooper – he’s one of my favorite actors – and he doesn’t feel like Jesse Custer to me. Even worse is Ruth Negga as Audrey. I think Ruth Negga is extremely talented, and I couldn’t care less that she’s of an ethnic background, but she doesn’t capture the heart of Tulip the way I think of her. I don’t see any of the chemistry between the two of them that’s going to lead me to believe that they’re going to become one of the great love stories of all time. I’m hoping the show will get better, but I honestly don’t like it one bit. What a disappointment.

Outlander: Season 2 – I’ve never read the Outlander series of books that Starz’s hit show is based on, but from hearing every blow-by-blow detail of them from my wife (who’s a huge fan) I feel like I have. That said, regardless of whether you’ve read the books or not, you’ll be hard pressed not to fall in love with Outlander. The story follows a World War II nurse who gets mystically transported back in time to the 1700s in the Scottish highlands. There she meets a man and falls in love with him, but what of her husband waiting back in the 20th century? While this sounds like it could be weepy melodrama, it’s anything but, filled with action, humor, romance, drama, and mystery. And with lavish production values, the show looks like a feature film. No wonder this is such a big hit for Starz. I have to say, I liked the first season better on the whole, but Season two did have some standout moments and was still pretty terrific overall.

Valley of the Dolls & Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – Famously scripted by Roger Ebert, Valley of the Dolls is a look at three women trying to get their big breaks in show business and the perils of their personal lives in the wake of those pursuits. While it was critically derided upon its release, the film was actually a hit and has become a cult classic. What I was really interested in seeing, however, was Sharon Tate, the actress who was murdered by Charles Manson’s family. Not to be morbid, but I’d always known who she was but never seen her in a film, so I wanted to get a chance to experience her. Of course, it’s bittersweet, because she was luminous and beautiful, and her life ended way too soon. Now, Valley of the Dolls and its sequel, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (which is admittedly inferior but still an enjoyable enough film) have been released by The Criterion Collection, and both films are the better for it. With the usual care in presenting the sound and picture plus some terrific bonus features, I hope these films will take on new life with these new editions.

Imperium – I’ve espoused this opinion before, but I think Daniel Radcliffe is one of the most talented actors working today. Far beyond what he brought to Harry Potter, I’ve watched every movie he’s been in since then and he never fails to blow me away. In Imperium, Radcliffe once again proves that he’s one of the best actors working today. It’s a bit of a shame that the film doesn’t quite live up to the talent he brings to the screen. In nutshell form, the film is about an undercover FBI officer infiltrating a white supremacist group. That’s pretty much all you need to know. The film isn’t bad at all, it’s just not great and it doesn’t really do anything truly original. There are some nice intense moments and the performances are terrific, but the film isn’t quite a slam dunk. Still, I enjoyed it more than I didn’t, so don’t take this as a negative review. I just wish the movie itself had been a little better to match the intensity of Radcliffe’s performance.

Mr. Church – Okay, so the actual story of Mr. Church is fairly simple, about a family with a sick member who hire a chef named Mr. Church who – of course – has a great impact on them and also develops a meaningful relationship with the family’s young daughter. So far, so good. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s sweet and has some nice character moments and some strong drama. But what really makes the film worth watching is Eddie Murphy in the title role. It’s been rare that Murphy has made the foray into dramatic acting (Dreamgirls is the only role that comes to mind.) However, he’s absolutely a revelation here, full of restraint and nuance. This isn’t a bombastic, over-the-top performance, but rather a true, dramatic performance that comes from a seasoned actor. Playing opposite the always-enjoyable Britt Robertson, the film works largely because of Murphy and Robertson and the relationship between them. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s worth watching.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • 50 Years of Star Trek and Building Star Trek – Tying into this week’s release of Star Trek Beyond, we have two new documentaries about the iconic series. 50 Years of Star Trek is a more broad-reaching film, tracing the history of the entire series over its two-hour running time. There are interviews with most of the major actors, including the last recorded interviews with Leonard Nimoy (which obviously get a lot of the screen time, and rightfully so.) We trace the show’s journey from the original series through The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, as well as revisiting all of the movies. Like I said, it covers a broader spectrum, but it’s extremely enjoyable and the fact that all of the interviews are new and not recycled makes it must-see material for Trek fans. Building Star Trek is a cool documentary all about the show, but in a different way than usual. Framed around two engineering projects – recreating the bridge of the original Enterprise and restoring the original Enterprise model – the film also pulls in Trek actors, engineers, astronauts, writers, and more luminaries to talk about the effect the show had on them. Now, as I stated above, I’m a huge Star Trek fan, so I really enjoyed this film, and I think most Trek fans will as well.
  • The IT Crowd: The Complete Series – It’s no secret that I’m a fan of many British television shows. While I lean more towards their dramas and crime thrillers, I do enjoy the occasional comedies from across the pond as well. The IT Crowd – while not a household name in the US – was an extremely popular sitcom about IT employees that helped launch the careers of Chris O’Dowd and Richard Ayouade. This set includes all four six-episode seasons, plus a one-hour special that wraps everything up. The show is very funny in a wry way, and it reminds me in a way of The Office (you know, the good British version). They aren’t exactly the same, but I could see The IT Crowd characters working for the same company that David Brent does. If you’ve never seen the show, this is a great way to check it out.
  • Hell on Wheels: Season 5 Volume 2 – The Final Episodes – When I first saw the promos for AMC’s Hell on Wheels, I thought, “Hmmm… that looks interesting. But not interesting enough to watch.” I ended up skipping it on broadcast, but when the DVDs came across my desk, I was interested enough to pop it in the player and see what it had to offer. While I wasn’t blown away by the show, by the end of each episode, I was intrigued enough to soldier on to the next episode to see what happened. Five seasons later, I’m still checking it out, so they must be doing something right. Anson Mount is charismatic in that tortured, man-with-a-past lead role, and the supporting cast is all good as well. Hell on Wheels is worth checking out if you liked movies like There Will Be Blood that are set in the old west/post-Civil War America but aren’t traditional westerns. This is sort of a birth-of-industry western show, and overall, it’s pretty good, but not sheer television brilliance. This final collection wraps up the show, and while I never considered myself a die-hard fan, I’ve stuck with it all this away so I’m happy to see how it wraps up.
  • Masterpiece: Durrells in Corfu – Based on a series of popular novels, this show follows a family that leaves England in the 1930s and relocates to the sunny coast of Greece. What follows is a charming, enjoyable drama about a mom and her four kids who are all in the classic fish out of water mode. The show is really well balanced; the characters’ natural quirkiness lend some humor and charm to what is essentially a drama, and there are some more serious moments but the levity keeps things from becoming dreary. I won’t say this is a show for everyone, but I think if you like most of what Masterpiece has to offer, you’ll probably enjoy this one quite a bit.
  • Living in the Age of Airplanes – Louis C.K. does a great bit about how people have gotten really ridiculous in what they expect from modern life nowadays, and he uses the idea of flying through the sky in a giant metal can as the centerpiece of it. It’s a great bit (you can find it online), and it really sets the stage for this documentary, which sort of reminds viewers that, hey, flying across the world in a matter of hours is really an absolutely incredible thing. Narrated by Harrison Ford, this documentary features both gorgeous footage of planes in flight as well as an in-depth look at how the world is a better place for them being in it. It might not sound all that exciting, but it’s a surprisingly good film.
  • Carnage Park – A solid premise is let down by shoddy execution. In this film, a young woman is taken hostage by two bank robbers, only to end up in the crosshairs of a madman who targets all three of them. Solid concept, right? Unfortunately, the film manages to waste it by delivering a ho-hum grindhouse-lite outing that is light on tension and suspension. Despite some talent in the cast (Ashley Bell from The Last Exorcism and the always-terrific Pat Healy), the film is just so-so. I’ve definitely seen worse, but I wouldn’t go out of your way to track it down.
  • The Lost Bladesman – Donnie Yen – also known as the most prolific actor in the world – stars in this period action epic about ancient China. I feel like a broken record sometimes with these films, but I wish I liked these more than I did. There’s something about this Ancient China Martial Arts Epic Spectacular genre that I just can’t get into it. I will say that, thanks to an under-two-hour running time (whereas these films often run closer to three hours), the film is less tedious than many of the others I’ve seen like this. If you like these kinds of movies, this is one of the better ones I’ve seen recently.
  • Gleason – You might remember a few years back, during a big primetime NFL game with the New Orleans Saints, when a player came out onto the field in a wheelchair and was embraced by Drew Brees and the fans. He was also featured in a Super Bowl commercial about technology that I think was from GE or AT&T. That player was Steve Gleason, an offensive lineman who – at the prime of his NFL career- was diagnosed with ALS, a severely debilitating disease. Right after he was given a life expectancy of 2 to five years, he found out that his wife was pregnant. This film gives us a look inside Steve’s life dealing with ALS, being a new parent, and the transition from NFL player to a family man who has to change literally every single thing about his life. It’s difficult to watch at times, but in the best way. It’s extremely moving, heartening, and inspirational, and as an NFL fan and simply a fan of stories about real people dealing with life’s challenges, I really liked this film.
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Legend of Everfree – I don’t really care about My Little Ponyat all (no Bronies here!), but my daughter loves these movies. Legend of Everfree is the newest movie in the series, in which we are transported to a world which is populated by the Equestria Girls, who are basically human teen versions of the My Little Ponies. They’re big, bright, fast-paced, and familiar-yet-different. As a parent, I found these to be extremely tolerable. And I don’t mean that as a dig, but I’m not a Brony; I watched these solely so my daughter could enjoy them, and she did, very much.
  • Uncle Nick – Comedian/actor Brian Posehn (you’ll know him the second you see him) gets a starring role in this comedy about a vulgar black sheep of a whitebread family who wreaks havoc on a holiday gathering. When another family member shows up who threatens to reveal some secrets, things get… interesting. The film is a black comedy, and there are some very funny moments. On the whole, the film isn’t a slam dunk, but I like the way it ties into some real world events, and Posehn is pretty funny in most things I’ve seen him in. Worth a look if you like R-rated comedy for sure.
  • Paw Patrol: Pups Save Christmas – This is the newest DVD release of the popular new series for pre-schoolers. The show features six dogs and their 10-year-old friend who use cool vehicles to save the day and teach lessons about “good citizenship.” Its a fun show, and the young ones will love it. Of course, as the title implies, this one has a Christmas theme, which is nicely timed to tie in with the holiday seasoni!
  • Care Bears And Cousins: Take Heart – This all new animated series (making its debut on DVD with this release) sees the popular ’80s mainstays’ resurgence continue. This CGI series isn’t the same as the ’80s cartoon or the more recent hand-drawn series, but it keeps the Care Bearsspirit alive. In fact, I think kids today will enjoy it, because the CGI look of the cartoon keeps it feeling fresh and current, and the general messages of the Care Bears remain positive messages about friendship, sharing, caring, and the like.
  • Power Rangers Dino Charge: Hero – This latest collection of the hit kids show features the current series of the Power Rangers, which wisely mixes dinosaur-shaped zords back into the mix. Obviously this is for kids, but I think as far as entertainment for youngsters go, there’s a lot worse than this. The show is still cheesetastic as all get out, but that’s me saying that with a critical adult eye. Kids should eat it up.
  • Shaun The Sheep: We Wish Ewe A Merry Christmas – This disc is the latest release in there popular Shaun the Sheep franchise from the creators of Wallace & Gromit. You might have seen these clever cartoons (all done in claymation) as interstitials (and later a regular series and movie) on Disney Junior, and they really are a lot of fun. What I especially like about the show is that my kids think they’re hysterical, but as an adult I also really enjoy the humor as they’re very smartly written. Of course, this disc has a holiday theme to it, so it’ll make a good stocking stuffer.
  • Forces of Nature – This four-part documentary series is some heady stuff. It starts off asking simple questions like, “Why is water blue?” and ends up mixing together vignettes about physics, humanity, culture, and how it all weaves together. Sometimes it’s a bit much to take in, other times it’s completely engrossing. As usual, the production values are terrific and for the most part, the subject matter is interesting throughout, with a few minor exceptions. It’s not exactly Friday night popcorn viewing, but if you’re looking for something that will make you think, this will fit the bill.
  • Last Girl Standing – As somebody who hosts a podcast called After the Ending – wherein we come up with what happens after the endings of popular films – I really enjoyed the concept of this film. It takes place five years after a girl survives a horrible experience with a masked slasher killer. How does she put her life back together? How does she trust again? And what happens when her past comes back to haunt her? While a low-budget film, it benefits from strong performances for the genre, and the story is well-crafted and on-point. It’s not a perfect film, but I like that it’s an entry into the horror genre that tries (and mostly succeeds) to do something different.
  • Craft in America: Teachers – PBS’s popular show continues on DVD with Craft in America: Teachers, which focuses on not just the artists this time, but those who also want to help spread their joy of art and teach others about how to achieve their own. This go-around has a different feel from previous entries, as these episodes aren’t just about crafts that simply look nice, but we get to see some of the passion and training behind them as well.
  • Morphine: Journey of Dreams – This is the best kind of music documentary, as it features both actual members of the band being interviewed as well as actual music form the band in the form of live performance footage. That said, this is also one of those films that will mostly appeal to fans of the band itself. If you weren’t into minor alt-rock hit Morphine in the 1990s (or aren’t into them now), this will probably not win you over. It’s a solid music documentary, but it’s not so groundbreaking that non-Morphine fans will probably get that into it. For fans, though, it’s terrific.

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