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Out This Week (In The US): War Dogs, Hell or High Water, To Live and Die in L.A. & more

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hell or high water 1

War Dogs – Miles Teller and Jonah Hill star in this true story about two twenty-somethings from Miami who inadvertently become major international arms dealers selling to the US Army. Now, my hopes for this film were pretty low. As much as I love Miles Teller – and I really do – I’m not a fan of Jonah Hill and I especially don’t really care for the film’s director, Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy.) However, this movie surprised me. While Jonah Hill does pretty much play the usual obnoxious, overbearing Jonah Hill character, Miles Teller is terrific, and the film is just really enjoyable. It’s an interesting story, it’s told well, the pacing is good, and it kind of has a Wall Street or Boiler Room feel to it, just in the world of arms dealing instead of stocks and bonds. There’s nothing all that original about the film, but it’s a really good way to kill two hours.

Hell or High Water – Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, and the always-excellent Ben Foster star in this modern day western/noir mash-up. While Bridges shares almost no screen time with Pine and Foster, it’s the two younger actors who drive the film. Playing brothers who rob banks to save Chris Pine’s farm from the banks, the duo is absolutely terrific on screen together. Foster is all bundled up crazy energy, while Pine is a good man caught in a bad place, full of anger and sadness. The film is a solid crime drama, but it’s a bit slow at times. Like, a lot of the times. Bridges provides some humor and Foster’s energy is captivating, but the film is bleak and measured, and it never gets to the level of exciting I feel like it could have. Worth a watch, but ultimately nothing special.

The Mechanic: Resurrection – Jason Statham returns in this sequel to a movie that no one remembers. I don’t say that as a dig, either. I’m a huge fan of Jason Statham and I watche every single one of his movies and I love them all. But I had to watch the trailer for The Mechanic and it was halfway through the trailer before I could even remember if I’d seen it or not. That film saw Statham as a mentor to Ben Foster’s “apprentice mechanic.” This time around, Foster is absent and Statham flies solo. And while I ultimately did enjoy the first film (even if it took me a while to remember that I did), this second one is a complete bore. I mean, Statham is his usual self, and you have Jessica Alba and Tommy Lee Jones along for the ride this time, but the film is just never engaging in any way. It’s definitely B-level Statham, which is a shame because I’m a huge fan.

The Squid and the Whale – Noah Baumbach’s signature film, this drama starring Jeff Daniels, Jesse Eisenberg, Laura Linney and Owen Kline is the one that put Baumbach on the map. I haven’t seen a lot of his (admittedly few) films but the ones I have seen I’ve really liked, so I was excited to finally see this film, which had somehow avoided me for the past decade or so. It’s a quiet movie and it is a serious film, but it has lighter moments in it. More to the point, it’s one of those films where the performances are so good that you can’t help but get wrapped up in it. As released by the Criterion Collection, the film has been completely restored and remastered, and it includes a nice collection of extra features. I love when Criterion tackles more contemporary releases and this one is definitely a good fit for the Collection.

To Live and Die in L.A. – William Petersen and Willem Dafoe star in this taut crime thriller from director William Friedkin. While it doesn’t have the “classic” status that Friedkin’s The French Connection does, I actually like this film better. It’s not quite as dark or gritty as The French Connection, but for me I find it to be a more cohesive film on the whole, rather than a good film punctuated by moments of brilliance like TFC. I also really like the setting of this film being in Los Angeles; so many crime films had taken place in New York by this time that the L.A. setting is really refreshing. Plus, there is a really terrific car chase that I think gets overlooked a lot. Newly released on Blu-ray by Shout Factory’s Shout Selects imprint, this is the best version of this film on home video I’ve seen yet.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • I.T. – Pierce Brosnan stars in this thriller that is extremely reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s non-starter, Firewall, a decade ago or so. It’s such a told and re-told story that I’m a little surprised Brosnan agreed to star in it. Basically, Brosnan plays a man whose IT consultant uses his technical prowess to start invading his life and stalking his daughter. Of course, from there, things get progressively worse. It’s not that it’s a bad movie, it’s just that we’ve seen it so many time before. Brosnan delivers a strong performance as usual, but there’s a reason this one went directly to video.
  • Wentworth: Season 1 – If you crossed Orange is the New Black with Oz, you’d get Wentworth. Set in a women’s prison, the show could draw comparisons to OITNB, but the tone is deadly serious, much more along the lines of Oz. Layered and complex, the show follows Bea Smith, an abused wife who gets convicted for attempting to murder her abusive husband. Once in prison, she finds herself caught in what is essentially a gang war between rival convicts. The show is extremely intense and well-acted, and it will draw you in from the first episode. Be aware that it’s darker than something like OITNB, but it’s equally compelling television.
  • H.U.D. II – Like I said in last week’s column, I’ve known what the acronym C.H.U.D. stands for for just about as long as I can remember (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.), since long before I was actually old enough that I should have known what it meant. After Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray release of the original film last week, now we have C.H.U.D II from Vestron Video. Much like the first movie, it has a certain sense of fun to it, but it is dated and sometimes cheesy and a bit yucky at times. I would say tjis is a typical horror sequel — not as good as the first one — but it’s welcome to see it on Blu-ray, especially if you’re a fan.
  • Return of the Living Dead 3 – I love zombie movies, and I have for a long time, even before they were as incredibly popular as they are today. The Return of the Living Dead series, however, has always been the more over-the-top and silly franchise in the genre. They’re over-the-top comedy-styled zombie movies filled with gore, guts, and glop. And while I’m far from a zombie purist (I love the fast zombies in Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead), this series has never really been a favorite. It’s just too ridiculous in places for my tastes. That said, this third installment is fun enough for what it is, but again, it doesn’t really scratch that zombie itch.
  • Texas Rising/Sons of Liberty – This new double feature from Lionsgate includes two historically-based miniseries. The History Channel’s star-studded miniseries about the formation of Texas is a fictional recounting that apparently has drawn some ire for being anything but historical. While I don’t know much about the history of Texas so I can’t comment on that, I do know about good filmmaking and, sadly, this isn’t it. Despite a terrific cast that includes Bill Paxton, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chad Michael Murray, Thomas Jane, and Ray Liotta, the script really sinks things here. The writing is pretty dismal, and even the best actors can’t save it. I mean, I’ve seen worse, and it is watchable, but it definitely isn’t the big blockbuster mini-series I was hoping for. Meanwhile, Dean Norris, Ben Barnes, Ryan Eggold, Michael Raymond-James, and Rafe Spall play the founding fathers of America in the five-hour miniseries Sons of Liberty. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about it because it presents dramatic recreations of some of the pivotal moments in American history rather than being a documentary, but that’s why I liked it. There’s no shortage of documentaries on John Hancock, John & Sam Adams, Paul Revere, Joseph Warren, Ben Franklin, and George Washington. So presenting the events that led to America’s independence as portrayed by a fine cast of actors, well, that’s something I’m interested in. It may not be 100% historically accurate, but I’m totally okay with that.
  • Super Hummingbirds – Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures. I’ve always thought they were interesting in a general sense, but this new nature documentary shows just how interesting they really are. Filled with some really incredible close-up footage of the birds using high speed photography, we get to see what their lives are like. It’s this footage which really sets this special apart. Getting a chance to see them in action – because they really are incredibly fast – is extremely interesting. Definitely worth checking out.
  • Mia Madre – I was really charmed by this Italian film. Sort of a rumination on life and career, the movie follows Margerhita, a film director dealing with her career and life in a state of semi-crisis. Her new film stars an American actor (played by John Turturro) who’s an overbearing blowhard, her crew is rebelling, her mother is ill, and her daughter is growing apart from her. It’s a lot for one woman to take, and she tries her best to deal with it all. It’s not a film filled with fireworks or melodrama, but rather an exploration of what real life is like for people, and how the intersection between career and family is a difficult road to travel. With terrific performances and engaging characters, I enjoyed this film more than I expected to.
  • Whitlock: Season One – Okay, there are some things that deserve to be on DVD and some things that don’t. I’m not quite sure where this one falls, but I guess it depends mostly on if you’re a fan of the Whitlock series or not. So basically what this is, is a web series that gives us a modernized, female version of Sherlock Holmes. There are five episodes running five to ten minutes apiece, and they’ve been collected here on a DVD that only runs a half hour. And while there are some charms to be found, I can’t help but think this show works better in short clips on the internet. Watching it full frame on my big-screen TV, the glaring issues such as the low budget and questionable dialogue become all the more glaring. If you’re a fan (and I honestly have no idea how popular this web series is), I guess it would be nice to have these all in one place, but it seems like it might be overkill releasing it on DVD.
  • Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World – Oh, another documentary about the internet, the world, and interconnectivity. How intere—wait, what? It’s directed by Werner Herzog? Oh, well now I’m interested. Turns out, this film is less a documentary per se (at least in a traditional way) than a collection of ruminations about the world and how it’s changed thanks to the internet. The people in the film are less interviewed than they are allowed to meander, and so it’s not a hard-and-fast science documentary. Instead, it’s more like a philosophical film about technology. Interesting stuff, but not my favorite film this week.
  • The Childhood of a Leader – Directed by actor Brady Corbett, this film stars Robert Pattinson and Berenice Bejo (The Artist) and shows us the development (from childhood) of a sociopath in Post-World War I Europe. The end result is a really interesting – if flawed – movie that is highlighted by excellent cinematography and a stunning musical score (that is equally stunning in how it is utilized) but balanced out by pacing issues and a sense of coldness. Overall, I found it very interesting, but it’s definitely a thinking-man’s movie and not a thriller in the traditional sense.
  • The Land – Produced by Nas and featuring music by Nas and Erykah Badu (and also starring Erykah Badu!), this new movie also stars Kim Coates, who is the bright spot in the film. The story ostensibly follows three friends trying to escape their downtrodden lives in Cleveland, Ohio. The film is okay; it’s not great, it’s not terrible. There are moments where it plods along and moments where the characters become more interesting, and the end result is a decent film that blends music and drama well enough, and I’m sure there’s an audience for it.
  • New Orleans: Music in Exile – I think I’ve covered about a dozen Robert Mugge music documentaries in the last six months. He makes music-documentaries mostly about blues and zydeco music and the like. This latest film features appearances by luminaries such as Dr. John, Cowboy Mouth, The Iguanas, Cyril Neville, and others who I’ve never heard of but I’m sure are big names in the New Orleans music world. As usual, Mugge focuses not just on the musicians but also the locales that have made their music legendary, and it deals with the adversity these people face in their everyday lives. As always with Mugge movies, it’s terrific if you’re a fan of the subject matter.

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