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Out This Week (In The US): Don’t Breathe, Mad Max: Fury Road – Black & Chrome Edition and more

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The Secret Life of Pets – Proof that not just Disney and Pixar know how to make successful animated movies, The Secret Life of Pets was one of the smash hits of the year. With a voice cast that includes Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, and Louis CK, the film has a lot to offer. While the movie draws more than a few comparisons to Toy Story (it’s largely the same overall plot), switching things up to household pets gives the film a wide field of humor to draw from. There are so many funny moments that are relatable to anyone who’s ever had a dog or cat (or even a guinea pig.) The film opens up pretty quickly and gets the pets out of their homes, and the resulting adventure is a lot of fun. Like Zootopia, it’s easy to see why this one was such a big hit.

Don’t Breathe – I first saw the trailer for Don’t Breathe in the movie theaters when I was watching The Shallows. And while I enjoyed The Shallows, the entire movie didn’t equal the intensity of the two-minute trailer for Don’t Breathe, which was one of the most intense trailers I’d ever seen. Obviously other people felt the same way, because the movie was one of the surprise hits of the fall. And having watched it now, I can say that the film actually delivers on what the trailer promises. I spent pretty much the last hour of the film with as knot in my stomach from the tension. There’s nothing groundbreaking from a story point of view, but the atmosphere and tension, as well as the action set-pieces, are all really effective. The film has its unpleasant moments – as you would expect – but overall I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Pete’s Dragon – The first of two family movies that underperformed at the box office in recent months, Pete’s Dragon was a live action update of Disney’s live action/animated hybrid from the 1970s. The original Pete’s Dragon is a well-remembered film that isn’t actually as good as many people remember it. I mean, it’s not a bad film, but it is sooooo so dated and definitely much more a product of its time than many of Disney’s classics. This modern update (which stars Bryce Dallas Howard and my main man Robert Redford) is a much better film, and I wish it had done better. It looks great, it has some terrific moments in it, and the interaction between the real world and the CGI dragon really sells the film as a whole. I expect this movie to find new life on home video.

The BFG – The second family film of recent months to underperform at the box office, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book was unfortunately dead on arrival in theaters, but I blame that more on the marketing than the movie itself. The film is perfectly good. It’s not the best family movie of the year nor is it the best Steven Spielberg film, but it’s certainly a fun time that should have performed better at the box office. Mark Rylance – who won an Oscar for Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies and provides the voice and motion capture for the BFG – is terrific, and the film has some good humor, some neat set pieces, and looks fantastic overall. Another one that’s worth watching as a family.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Black & Chrome Edition – This new version of Mad Max Fury Road actually includes two versions of the film: the regular full-color version AND the new Black-and-Chrome version, as masterminded by director George Miller. Similar to how The Mist was re-released in Black-and-white a few years ago, this version of the film is both the same and different. In black and white, it’s somehow even more bleak and desolate than the color version. That said, I think it does take away some of the grandeur of the environments that are so memorable in the film. Either way, I love this movie, and it’s cool to be able to get the new version and have the original version included as well.

Howard’s End – I had never seen Howard’s End before this new Anniversary Edition Blu-ray crossed my desk. I know it’s a very well-regarded movie, but period dramas have never been my thing. However, I hate having gaps in my movie-watching knowledge, so I sat down with this Anthony Hopkins-starring film to see what I had been missing. Turns out, it’s exactly what I expected it to be: supremely well-acted, relatively entertaining, a little slow in places. There’s no doubt that this is a quality film, but ultimately it falls under the category of “not quite my thing.” Still, this new Anniversary Edition includes excellent packaging and some great new extra features, so it’s a worthy purchase for fans.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – The very definition of a cult classic, this dark thriller stars a young Michael Rooker as the title character. It’s a movie that is critically ac claimed and has a devoted fan following, but is still largely unknown by less devoted moviegoers. Aiming to correct that oversight, MPI Home Video has released a new 30th Anniversary Edition of the film on Blu-ray. And while Henry: POASK isn’t exactly what I’d call a fun film to watch, it’s an extremely engaging and dark thriller. Michael Rooker has rarely been better, and it’s easy to forget just how raw and intense he could be in his young. Not that he’s not still a great actor, but this performance that put him on the map makes a strong case for why.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • The Shannara Chronicles: Season One – I used to read Terry Brooks’ Shannara books when I was a kid, but I honestly haven’t picked up a fantasy novel in at least 20 years. Still, I remember being so into the Shannara books that when MTV (of all networks!) announced a full-on fantasy TV series adaptation of the books, I had to check it out. The first thing that struck me was how I don’t remember a single thing from any of the books. The second thing that struck me was the fact that – despite the fact that this show is clearly aimed at a teenage audience base – I liked it quite a bit. The show looks pretty good, has a few talented actors in the cast (and a few less so), and presents a fantasy show unlike much of what else is on the air at the moment. It might not satisfy die-hard fans of the books, but for a casual or non-reader, it’s pretty enjoyable.
  • The Hollars – John Krasinski returns to directing with the dramedy The Hollars, which boasts an incredible cast including Krasinski himself, Anna Kendrick, Sharlto Copley, Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, and Charlie Day. The story is nothing groundbreaking (struggling artist returns home to get caught up in dysfunctional family drama), but this isn’t really a movie about plot. It’s about characters and moments, and the resulting film is an enjoyable story. Krasinski is a solid director and he gets good performances out of an already talented cast. The film is worth watching if you like character pieces, but it’s not something you need to go out of your way for.
  • Dead Rising: Endgame – I’m not a video gamer, and while I do try to have at least a cursory knowledge of popular games, I’m far from an expert. One of the games I’ve at least heard of is Dead Rising, which is a zombie-based action game. A couple of years ago I watched the first Dead Rising movie and I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I found it to be a fun and stylized take on the zombie genre. It didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it was clearly a movie with its heart in the right place. Now we have Dead Rising: Endgame, which brings Jesse Metcalfe back in the lead role and sees an equal amount of zombie carnage, creative handmade weaponry, and hyperactive filmmaking. Is it a masterpiece? No. Is it a fun way to kill a couple of hours for zombie fans? Absolutely.
  • In Order of Disappearance – Stellan Skarsgaard takes his turn as Liam Neeson in this action thriller that sees a father wreaking havoc on his son’s murderers. Now, I love me some Stellan Skarsgaard, so I was excited to see this one. And while the film’s official description might oversell the black comedy aspects of it, it’s definitely a film that understands what it is, and takes itself seriously enough without being overly serious. And as someone who is strongly NOT a fan of the Taken movies, I found that this movie takes a similar formula and improves on it. Be aware, however, the film is in Norwegian, so there are subtitles, but it’s still definitely worth watching.
  • Decommissioned – In what could also be called Battle of the B-Movie All Stars,” Michael Pare, Johnny Messner, Vinnie Jones, and James Remar star in this actioner that is – not surprisingly – pretty standard direct-to-video fare. The basic set-up is that a CIA agent is set-up to be the scapegoat in the assassination of the US President, and, well, of course, he’s not a big fan of that idea. From there, the film is simply riffs on other, better action movies, just done with a lower budget, lesser-named stars, and less filmmaking style. That all said, I’ve seen worse, and if you’re looking for something to satisfy your action craving for 90 minutes without taxing your brain, this might fit the bill.
  • If There’s a Hell Below – Despite the promising title and logline (“In a few minutes, an ambitious young journalist and a national security employee will meet for the first time. In an hour, one of them will be dead.”) this indie thriller comes up a little bit short on the thrills. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t live up to its promise. With a cast of unknowns and a script that meanders more often than it should, the film looks terrific and features some impressive cinematography, but it can be slow at times and never quite reaches the level of “thrilling.”
  • Author: The JT Leroy Story – I’m not much of a documentary fan, but I actually had seen another movie by the director of Author. Previously, writer/director Jeff Feuerzeig made the film The Devil and Daniel Johnston, which was an interesting if flawed film about a mentally challenged musician. This film tackles the 90s writing sensation JT Leroy, ostensibly a 16-year old boy, but actually a fortysomething woman. It’s an interesting story overall, although for me personally, there’s a sense of “Who really cares?” Not about the film, but about the fact that this woman was posing as a teenage boy. Did you like her book? Yes? Then who gives a crap who wrote it? Still, for people who considered this a major hoax, it’s a big deal, and this film delves into the entire situation and it’s pretty interesting overall.
  • 2016 World Series – Are you a Chicago Cubs fan? Then you’ll definitely want to pick up 2016 World Series Collector’s Edition. There are two versions of this available: one for the casual fan, and one for the die-hard fan. 2016 World Series Champions: The Chicago Cubs is a one-disc highlights film which gives you the movie-length version of the Cubs’ journey to infamy, and there’s also Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Collector’s Edition, which comes out next week (Dec. 13th) This eight-disc box set includes every single game of the World Series in its entirety. There’s also an entire bonus disc filled with goodies from extra interviews to audio clips and much more. Either one of these is a must-have for die-hard fans!
  • The Secret Agent – The always-terrific Toby Jones stars in this British BBC adaptation of a Joseph Conrad (Hearts of Darkness) novel. The secret agent in question is Jones’s Victorian-era shopkeeper, who is secretly a Russian spy assigned to plant a bomb that he would rather not set. Originally broadcast as a three-episode series on the BBC, this version of one of Conrad’s less-known novels is taut and intriguing, with Jones excellent as always and the supporting cast also all working at the top of their game. While I’m not an overly huge fan of period pieces, The BBC does this stuff better than anybody, and this is another worthwhile entry.
  • The TAMI Show/The Big TNT Show – This music release is a BIG deal for fans of… well, music. I mean, between these two monumental music events, you have the likes of The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Chuck Berry, The Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson And The Miracles, Bo Diddley, The Supremes, Ike and Tina Turner, The Ronettes, The Byrds, Ray Charles, and so many more. The TAMI Show was the first televised music concert of its time, bringing rock and roll to the masses in a way we’d never seen before. The follow up, The TNT Show aired two years later and continued to bring some of the best acts in music to television audiences. Honestly, it’s an embarrassment of riches. And while the footage is dated, the Blu-ray high def presentation does a nice job of presenting both shows in the best possible format. A must have for fans of music and music history.
  • The Devil’s Dolls – Sometimes I hate reviewing bad horror movies. It’s clear that the cast and crew of this film wasn’t setting out to make a bad movie. And while the idea of “worry dolls” (kinda like voodoo dolls) causing havoc and killing people doesn’t do a whole lot for me, I always go into a movie like this hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, it’s typical low-budget horror fare with mediocre acting, a weak screenplay, and an overall lack of anything really interesting or exciting about it. Die-hard horror fans might want to throw it in on a boring Friday night, but it just doesn’t really have a whole lot to offer.
  • A Chef’s Life: Season Four – PBS brings us the next volume of the popular show with A Chef’s Life: Season Four. As with the best food shows, this isn’t really a cooking show per se, but rather a show that explores food, cooking, the south, and the life of Chef Vivian Howard, who makes a compelling central figure for a TV show. Fans of fare like America’s Test Kitchen and The Mind of a Chef will enjoy these episodes.
  • Jennifer Lopez: Dance Again – This is basically Jennifer Lopez’s version of Madonna’s Truth or Dare, only about a hundred times less risqué and with twice as many children in tow. This mix of behind-the-scenes documentary and concert footage movie sees J. Lo on tour in 65 cities around the world, with her two young children along for the ride. It’s a lot less revealing and controversial than Truth or Dare, but that’s okay. J. Lo isn’t Madonna, and she doesn’t need to surround herself with controversy to get attention like Madonna did at the Truth or Dare point in her career. Ultimately, what this comes down to is how big of a fan of Jennifer Lopez you are. If you like her, this is a perfectly entertaining film.
  • School of the Future and A Subprime Education – PBS releases two new documentaries on DVD this week that focus on education. School of the Future is a NOVA special that focuses on what it will take to get America’s schools back to the top of the global totem pole. We hear from scientists mostly: neuroscientists and psychologists weigh in, as do professional educators. We learn about the brain itself and how we learn, and what changes we need to make in the education system to become a leader in education again. Meanwhile, A Subprime Education is a Frontline special, and it takes us deep into the shady world of the for-profit college education industry. Through the lens of Corinthian Colleges, we see what happens when the for-profit university system breaks down. Both of these documentaries are interesting – and worrisome – as neither one of them paints an overly rosy picture of education in America.
  • Super Tunnel – I loved this documentary! I’ve always been fascinated by how you build something like a subway system or an underground tunnel below a river. How exactly is it possible to dig out a tunnel that stretches for miles, have it not collapse, run power into it, make it structurally sound, and have it last for years and years and years? I literally can’t wrap my brain around how it all works. Even after watching Super Tunnel, which details the construction of a massive transportation tunnel in England, my mind still boggles. Still, watching it happen in this special is pretty amazing, and I was glued to the screen just to see how it all works. If you like stuff to do with engineering, modern marvels, technology, transportation, and the like, this is a must see.
  • The Great Gilly Hopkins – Kathy Bates, Julia Stiles, Octavia Spencer, and Glenn Close all appear on the cover of this family-themed movie, but it’s young Sophie Nelisse who commands the majority of the screen time. As a foster child who schemes to reunite with her birth mother, Nelisse is a pretty strong lead for a young actor. The film itself has its charms; the supporting cast is obviously excellent, there are moments of humor and drama, and it moves at a pretty good clip. It’s not necessarily the kind of movie I’m going to pop in solo, but for a family movie outing, it’s a pretty good option.
  • 15 Years of Terror – Despite a title that sounds like it might be a horror movie or horror movie retrospective, 15 Years of Terror focuses on a different kind of horror: terrorism. This NOVA special from PBS looks at the rise of terrorism over the past decade and a half, but rather than a simple chronological blow-by-blow, it explores the psychology and culture that led to the terrorism climate of the present day. It’s not exactly light viewing material, but if you’re looking for a real insight into the world of terrorism and the human cost and motivations behind it, this program will fit the bill.
  • The Unspoken – Another one of those movies labeled “From the Producer of a Bunch of Horror Movies You Like!” Unfortunately, we all know by now that just because movies share a producer doesn’t mean they share any DNA. So while this movie may share cover blurbs with Insidious and Paranormal Activity, it’s not going to impress you like those movies might have. The good news is that the film’s lead actor, Jodelle Ferland, while not a household name (although you’ll likely recognize her as she has a pretty long resume for a young actor) is a strong actor, but the film itself is just a retread of familiar ground.

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