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Out This Week (In The US): The Force Awakens 3D, Sausage Party, Taxi Driver, Space Jam & more


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Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D – I don’t think The Force Awakens needed 3D to make it any more awesome than it already was, but if you want to relive it in three dimensions, now you can. (At least, assuming you have a 3D player at home.) Housed in a gorgeous box with a lenticular design, the film translates extremely well to 3D on home video. The imagery pops and the film looks terrific, really immersing you in a world that’s already visually sumptuous. There are also all of the extra features from the original release plus several NEW bonus features! Yay! Something to help hold us over until the next movie comes out! What else is there left to say about Star Wars: The Force Awakens? I mean, I can’t imagine you haven’t seen it by now and if you haven’t, I can’t imagine you’re that big of a Star Wars fan. For the record, I absolutely LOVE Star Wars: the Force Awakens. It’s utterly magical.

Sausage Party – By now, you probably know most of what you need to know about Sausage Party. It’s an animated film but it’s most definitely for grown-ups, and it mixes everyday food items with sex jokes and a Great Escape-esque plotline. It also stars pretty much every actor to come out of the Judd Apatow factory over the past decade or so: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Michael Cera, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, and even Edward Norton and Salma Hayek. And here’s the thing; this isn’t the kind of movie you’re going to feel good about yourself after watching. It’s crass and low-brow and isn’t afraid to go over the top. But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a good number of laughs to be found here. I don’t think it’s the kind of film I’d watch again, but I at least laughed while watching it.

Taxi Driver: 40th Anniversary Edition – I’m not quite as in love with Taxi Driver as some people are. I like the film, and I respect it, and I think De Niro is obviously amazing in it, but is it a film that I love to watch? Not really. It’s typical Martin Scorsese (well, not typical) and I’ve never been an overly huge Scorsese fan. I know some people consider that sacrilege, but it’s just how I feel. That said, It’s been a long time since I’ve watched the movie and I did enjoy revisiting it. This new 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is pretty terrific. The film looks and sounds as good as I’ve ever seen it, and there are a ton of new extra features, including ones with Scorsese and De Niro. Fantastic stuff if you’re a fan.

Game of Thrones: The Complete Sixth Season – It’s easy to feel like you’re sick of hearing about Game of Thrones, especially if you’ve ever been on the internet. But it’s hard to deny that the show is extremely impressive. It’s like a big-budget fantasy epic film that happens to be split up into hour-long chapters. After a season-long wait, Season Six has finally been released on Blu-ray. As I only watch this show on disc and have to avoid spoilers all year long, it was nice to go in and find some surprises and still enjoy watching the show. Of course, the season-end cliffhangers (no spoilers here) were hard to avoid hearing about (but soooo worth watching), but there are still some nice twists and turns along the way. While I’m not the massively obsessed fan that some people are, there’s no doubt that I really enjoy Game of Thrones.

Dead Ringers – Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint brings another horror cult classic to Blu-ray, although this one is a bit more of a mainstream film than a pure cult film. Starring Jeremy Irons and having seen definite theatrical release back in the day, this is a film that just wasn’t a big hit as opposed to one that was never seen in the first place. Jeremy Irons stars in two roles as twin gynaecologists who interchange lives with frightening ease. Genevieve Bujold stars as Irons’ love interest (but which Irons, hmmm?) who must deal with some terrible events as the sanity of her world seems to devolve around her. This is considered by many to be Cronenberg’s best film, and I’m not sure that I can argue otherwise. This new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray comes in gorgeous packaging and several new extra features, making it a must-have for fans of the film.

Death of a Salesman – I know a lot of people have played Willie Loman, the titular salesman in Arthur Miller’s seminal work, but for my money whenever I think of the character, Dustin Hoffman is the actor that comes to mind. Despite being one of the most famous plays in the history of theater, the film version didn’t make that much of an impact. I’m not sure how well it was received at the time, but it certainly didn’t have any real lasting impact, especially not like the play. And having now watched the movie, I can say that I understand why. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch; the performances are amazing and of course the story is as good as you’d expect. But there’s something about a staged version of DOAS that has an immediacy to it in a theater, and somehow that doesn’t translate to the screen nearly as well. It’s still enjoyable (it IS Death of a Salesman, after all), but it doesn’t beat going to see it performed live.

Space Jam: 20th Anniversary EditionSpace Jam is an odd movie. On the one hand, Michael Jordan is not a movie star. Nor do I think most kids wanted to see a movie about a basketball game between Looney Tunes characters and space aliens. On the other hand, the movie has a lot of beloved characters in it and the crossover between the live action footage and the animation is pretty well done. The end result is something of a mixed bag, especially watching it twenty years on. There are parts that are quite dated, and there are parts that still work surprisingly well. However, the nice thing is that there’s a whole generation of kids out there who have never seen this movie and it’s fun enough that they will probably enjoy it, and anything that introduces them to classic Looney Tunes cartoons is a good thing.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Black Sails: Season Three – Starz’s hit pirate series returns home video, just in time for Season Four to set sail. With Michael Bay producing, the production values on this show are amazing, and the results are pretty darn awesome. Starz was clearly trying to create a Game-of-Thrones-with-pirates show, and I think they’ve largely succeeded. The cast is terrific, the action sequences are outstanding, and the show is fun to watch and engaging. And the cast is equally easy on the eyes for guys and girls; there are a lot of very pretty people in the cast. If you’re like me and don’t pay for premium TV, now is the chance to have some fun and check out Black Sails.
  • Better Call Saul: Season Two – As someone who’s never quite gotten around to watching Breaking Bad past the first season, I wasn’t terribly interested in Better Call Saul, mostly to avoid spoilers (since I do plan on finishing BB one of these days.) But when the DVDs crossed my desk for review, I decided the time had come. The show obviously follows Saul Goodman, Walter White’s lawyer, in the time before he got caught up with White’s criminal empire. Here, he’s finding his place in the lawyering world, and he’s not always successful. I never thought I’d see Bob Odenkirk anchor his own show, but he represents well here. It’s not Breaking Bad, and hopefully most people won’t expect it to be. Better Call Saul carves out its own identity, and that’s a good thing.
  • C.H.U.D. – Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. I’ve known what the acronym C.H.U.D. stands for for just about as long as I can remember, since long before I was actually old enough that I should have known what it meant. Yet somehow, I’ve never gotten around to seeing the film until now, with Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray release of the film. And it’s funny, over the years I think I’ve built up this sort of mythic status in my head that C.H.U.D. was some kind of horror masterpiece and… well, it isn’t. Yes, it has a certain sense of fun to it, but it is dated and sometimes cheesy and a bit yucky at times. I’m glad I got to see it – and this new Blu-ray is terrific if you’re a fan of the movie – but don’t go into expecting anything other than a down and dirty horror flick.
  • Time Life’s Golden Age of Television: Classic TV Shows from Five Decades – At first I thought this was a collection of documentaries about classic television, but it turns out it’s actually a massive 11-disc collection collecting episodes of some of the most beloved television shows in history. You get two discs each of the following shows: The Carol Burnett Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Bob Hope Specials, and The Andy Williams Show, plus a bonus eleventh disc with extra features such as interviews with Jerry Lewis and Don Rickles, among other great entertainers. There’s also a 44-page collectible book, which I’m a huge fan of, as I think the DVD booklet is a lost art. Now, the collection’s a little pricy, but if you want to get a wide smattering of some of the biggest hit shows of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, you can’t get much better than this set.
  • Army of One – Chances are good that you’ve forgotten that Nicolas Cage can act. I almost have, save for a movie he was in a couple of years ago called Joe, in which he turned in a terrific performance. While Army of One likely won’t win him any major awards, it’s certainly his best performance since the aforementioned Joe. The film itself is an oddball, loosely based (supposedly) on some kind of true story about a man who receives a vision from god and decides he has to single-handedly kill Osama Bin Laden. Directed by Larry Charles (Bruno & Borat), the film is surprisingly good despite its wacky premise. And it’s good to see Cage doing something interesting again.
  • Looking: The Complete Series and The Movie – HBO knows a thing or two about making a good TV show. And they succeeded once again with Looking, the story of three gay friends in San Francisco who are… well, looking. Looking for love, looking for themselves, looking for identity. It’s not quite a comedy and not a full on drama, but it treads that line in between and succeeds quite well, with three lead actors who are quite charismatic plus the living, breathing city of San Francisco acting as a character all its own. Sure, some people won’t watch this show because of the subject matter and their personal views, but if you don’t have any hang-ups about homosexuality on television, this is a great show. Plus, you get a movie that wraps up all the events of the show and brings a nice closure to the lives of our characters.
  • The Legend of Bruce Lee: Season One – I’ve been a Bruce Lee fan for a really long time, but after you’ve seen all his movies there’s not really too many places left to go. Sure, I’ve seen some documentaries and also read some books about Lee (plus I love the movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story), but that’s about it. So I was pretty excited when this show came across my desk. A dramatized version of Lee’s life, this first season spans ten episodes and covers Lee’s early career. Danny Chan is very good in the lead role and also bears a striking resemblance to Lee, which adds to the authentic feel of the show. I’m sure much of the drama has been fictionalized, but I’d be lying if I said that really mattered to me. The show is fun to watch and is a neat look at (a version of) the life of a movie icon.
  • The Syndicate – A TV show that’s a bit of a twist on the formula of Downton Abbey, The Syndicate explores what happens when the “downstairs” servants in a posh manor win the lottery. Which is a pretty great premise for a show, in my opinion. As you can imagine, things get a bit… awkward. There are some moments which you can sort of see coming, but there are also some real surprises along the way. The cast is largely unknown in the US, but features a number of British television alumni, including Anthony Andrews, Polly Walker, Lenny Henry, Melanie Hill, and Richard Rankir. While ultimately this is another show debuting in the aftermath of Downton that isn’t quite as good as Downton, it’s still a largely enjoyable show overall.
  • We are Twisted F***ing Sister – Some music documentaries are really boring, and some are just as lively as the artist they’re portraying. Luckily, this one falls into the latter category. Sure, Twisted Sister is mostly remembered these days as a cartoonish hair metal band from the 80s with a couple of hits like “I Wanna Rock” and “We’re Not Gonna Take it.” And maybe this documentary won’t do anything to change that perception. But it does give you a very colorful recounting of the band’s heyday, their successes and failures, and what happened after they weren’t headliners anymore. It’s a fun, interesting film, even if you’re not a fan of the group per se.
  • Red Vs. Blue: Season 14Red Vs. Blue is a surprisingly funny spoof of the Halo video games. RVB is an animated series that’s created using in-game footage from the Halo series of video games, and it’s all re-dubbed to some very comedic effects. It follows a group of hapless soldiers stationed on an alien planet, and for the most part they’re a bunch of dimbulbs which, of course, leads to hilarity. Not every joke hits, but man, I do find this show pretty funny sometimes. The creators also do a good job of keeping the humor universal; I’ve never played a minute of Halo, and I still enjoyed the heck out of this show. It’s not filled with game in-jokes (or if it is, I didn’t notice them), and the humor is really accessible to anyone, Halo fan or not. That’s pretty cool.
  • Andy Williams: Moon River and Me – This DVD collects performances of 18 of Andy Williams’ most popular songs taken from his own Emmy-award winning TV series and his appearances at the Academy Awards. Of course, Moon River is one of the songs (and Henry Mancini himself appears), but I’ll be honest, aside from Moon River I don’t know too many of these songs. Not that that takes away from the quality of the performances; the songs sound great and fans of Andy will be sure to enjoy this release.
  • Cardboard Boxer – Thomas Haden Church has largely disappeared from the limelight over the past few years, after his highlights earlier in his career on the TV show Wings and the success of the movie Sideways. Here, he reminds us that he’s a very talented actor in his role as a homeless man who is enticed into fighting for money by a spoiled college kid. It’s definitely a Film With A Message, but the performance by Church makes it worth watching, and the story is interesting enough to keep viewers watching. Worth a look.
  • Arlo the Burping Pig – It’s hard to take a movie seriously about a young girl who befriends a pig that’s run away from the circus and who’s secret of hiding out with her might be revealed by his incredibly loud belching. I mean, what am I supposed to do with that? Well, luckily, I can look at a film through the eyes of its target audience, which I clearly am not. This is a Dove Foundation-approved family film and it’s clearly aimed at younger kids, and in that respect it works. It’s funny at times, largely cute, and of course mostly positive. As an adult viewer, it doesn’t do much for me, but if I was a small child, I’d probably enjoy it.

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