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Out This Week (In The US): Sully, Jason Bourne, The Magnificent Seven and more

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Sully – The obvious question about Sully is, “How do you turn an event that lasted exactly 208 seconds into a feature-length movie?” And of course, the answer is, you tell the rest of the story. We all know how Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his crew put a malfunctioning jumbo jet into the Hudson river and saved the lives of everyone on board. However, this film – which stars Tom Hanks, fantastic as usual – looks at not just the crash landing, but the events that followed it, as the airline industry investigates what happened and whether or not Sully made the best choices he could. The resulting film is both dramatic and exciting, and it gives you a glimpse into how the airline industry works behind the scenes, which isn’t always pretty.

Jason Bourne – After the disappointment of The Bourne Legacy, I was pretty sure the franchise was over, at least for the time being. But, of course, the film series is too profitable for Universal to let it go, so they lured back Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, and the result is the eponymous Jason Bourne. Now, I’ve always enjoyed the Jason Bourne movies quite a bit, although to be honest, I’ve never been one of the biggest fans of the franchise. I think they’re great action movies, but most of them I’ve only seen once; it’s not a franchise I’ve ever really fallen in love with. This film is largely the same as the first three; if you loved those movies, you’ll love this one. Me, I enjoyed it. Matt Damon still makes a great action hero and Paul Greengrass is a strong action director. But I don’t know if it’s a film I’ll need to revisit anytime soon.

The Magnificent Seven – I was pretty excited when I first saw the trailer for The Magnificent Seven. It looked like a really fun ensemble piece that also happened to be a western. I was, however, a bit concerned by the fact that it was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who I fell can be a bit heavy handed as a director and also can be a bit hit or miss. Luckily, I enjoyed the film quite a bit. It’s not perfect, but it is a lot of fun. The characters are about as well-crafted as a house of cards. They’ve each got one or two traits that identify the, but only Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke get any real character development. Still, this is an action film, so that’s forgivable. The action scenes are very strong, and the charisma that the lead actors bring tot he screen in the in-between moments really bridges the gaps in the action. The film also has some nice humorous moments. Some of the jokes are a bit on the nose or a bit too easy, but there are some good laughs to be found, and Chris Pratt brings a sly wink to the entire proceeding. I think the best thing about the film is that you’ll like it whether you’re a fan of westerns or not. Yes, it is a western, but it has a very definite modern feel to it. That, coupled with the good stars, the strong action sequences, and the humor will make this enjoyable for most people.

Bridget Jones’s Baby – It’s been a decade since the last Bridget Jones movie, and I don’t know that anyone was really clamoring for another one. And the film’s tepid box office reception would indicate that maybe that, well… maybe not. However, while it might not be the kind of movie to get people into theaters again, I think maybe it will do well on home video. It’s awfully good to see Renee Zellweger on screen again after what seems like a lengthy absence, and having Colin Firth along for the ride again is always a good thing. Plus, Patrick Dempsey makes a nice addition to the cast, and it’s good to see that his career didn’t end with Grey’s Anatomy. The movie itself doesn’t do anything new or different, but it’s kind of like a slice of chocolate cake: familiar, comforting, and sweet.

Storks – What a weird journey to the box office Storks had, at least in terms of my perception of it. I had heard next to nothing about the movie, and then all of a sudden it seemed to be in theaters. Then I finally saw the trailer for it – after it had come out – and I thought it actually looked pretty good. Then it made a little money at the box office… and then it disappeared. Weird. Regardless of its journey and success (or lack of), the film turns out to be quite a bit of fun. It’s silly and loud, but it’s also got some sharp moments and Andy Samberg makes for an endearing main character. It’s not a classic by any stretch, but for a kids’ film that parents can also enjoy, Storks fits the bill.

Star Trek: The Roddenberry Vault – On the surface, I love this new Star Trek set; it’s a real treasure trove for Trek fans. But I do have mixed feelings. At the crux of said feelings is the fact that it includes some stuff you simply don’t need. Let me explain. Recently, an entire vault of dailies (basically unused footage) from the original Star Trek series in the 1960s. Hours and hours of outtakes, bloopers, unused footage, test footage, and more were all locked away in this vault. Now, CBS has put much of that footage into a series of new documentaries, about three hours’ worth in total, that look back at the creation of the show and give us glimpses of a Trek we’ve never seen. The problem is that these documentaries are packaged here with a dozen classic Star Trek episodes on a three-disc set. However, if you have the Original Series on Blu already, you don’t really need the episodes again. That said, you get basically a Greatest Hits of Star Trek, with twelve of the show’s very best episodes collected here: The Trouble With Tribbles, Arena, City on the Edge of Forever, etc. Ultimately, I think this is a must have for fans, but it’s unfortunate you have to pay extra for episodes you probably already own.

Star Wars: The Freemakers Chronicles – Season One – LEGO and Star Wars have become amazing partners in everything from toys to video games to original movies and TV. While most of the previous LEGO Star Wars movies have stemmed from the existing movies, this all-new series features a group of new characters and takes place in between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I really enjoy this series. It manages to have the LEGO sense of fun and silliness while also presenting a serious-enough story that makes it worth watching for Star Wars fans. The new characters have that endearing Star Wars quality to them (even though they’re in LEGO form) and the show really shines because it’s not afraid to have fun. That makes it a winner in my book.

Morgan – There’s a good chance that you haven’t even heard of this recent sci-fi thriller. It was advertised for about 30 seconds, and lasted about equally as long in theaters. I don’t know why it got dumped with such little promotion, but I think the film could have been at least a medium-sized hit if it had gotten any kind of attention at all upon its release. It’s the story of a genetically engineered girl and the woman who tries to reach out to her. And of course, because this is a movie and, you know, science, things go horribly wrong. While it is reminiscent of films like Splice, it definitely has its own identity, and ultimately I liked it. It’s nothing groundbreaking or overly exciting but as an engaging way to kill 90 minutes, it’s pretty darn good.

Phantasm: Ravager – A new Phantasm fim? Sign me up! While the hantasm movies remain the most inscrutable, indecipherable horror movies ever made (I seriously don’t have a clue what’s going on in any of them), they’re too much fun to care. Unfortunately, this newest installment isn’t directed by Don Coscarelli, who helmed all the other ones, but his presence isn’t missed TOO much. With Reggie Bannister and Angus Scrimm back for this fifth and final film, it’s pretty enjoyable overall, even if it is largely as incomprehensible as the previous entries.

Also available this week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • Greater – I love sports movies, no matter how many times they might tell the same story. This one is less of a “underdog team overcomes adversity to win” story and more of a Rudy-type story, about an unlikely college football walk-on player who went on to great heights of football success for a time. While the film does have some faith-based scenes in the film, it doesn’t beat you over the head with the message, and instead focuses mostly on the character of this young man who inspired so many people and achieved some truly impressive things. It’s kind of hard not to like movies like this, and I did like Greater overall.
  • Goat – I’ve always had a strange fascination with movies that look at the darker side of college fraternities. From obvious ones like The Skulls to little-seen indies like Brotherhood, this is a genre of movies I typically tend to enjoy. I was doubly excited to see this one because it stars Ben Schnetzer, who impressed me so much in 2014’s underseen gem Pride. It also stars Nick Jonas, which might be a turn-off for some viewers, but he’s actually a perfectly fine actor. This film focuses on the infamous fraternity initiation process, and what happens when things start to go wrong. It’s not a classic by any stretch, but for a good way to kill 90 minutes with a fairly gripping film, this is a pretty good offering.
  • The Frontier – Kelly Lynch and Jim Beaver star in this neo-western crime drama that is a bit different from the usual genre fare. While Lynch and Beaver add a little star power to the film, the real star is Jocelyn Donahue as a young woman who’s a drifter that comes across a gang of ne’er-do-wells at a motel run by a somewhat mysterious proprietor. Not only is she the lead role, but she‘s also quite captivating in the role. The film itself is a pretty good crime thriller; a bit slow in places but overall more interesting than not. The performances elevate it a bit, and while you may want to feel like taking a shower afterwards, that’s clearly because the film conveys this gritty, seedy atmosphere in keen detail.
  • Time After Time – H.G. Wells versus Jack the Ripper? With time travel? Starring Malcolm MacDowell and David Warner? Yeah, I’m definitely interested in that! This Blu-ray version of the cult classic film is courtesy of the Warner Archive print-on-demand service, and it’s a great slice of pulpy sci-fi adventure. When H.G. Wells chases Jack the Ripper to 1979 San Francisco… well, I mean, the premise tells you pretty much everything you need to know. The film has some flaws, including occasionally slower pacing and some dodgy special effects, but it’s a cult classic for a reason and I enjoy it.
  • Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze – My mom used to read the Doc Savage pulp novels when I was a kid, and while I never got around to reading any of them, I was always completely bowled over by their fantastic cover artwork, featuring this muscular bronzed man in some sort of action-adventure setting, usually involving a desert or a wild animal. This cult classic film presents a 1970s look at the character in feature film format. The film was a notorious flop at the box office and it’s fair to say that it’s not hard to figure out why, but for comic book fans who remember some cheesy comic adaptations with fondness, there’s a certain amount of fun to be had here.
  • Cats Don’t Dance – This Warner Archive release sees the DVD re-release of Cats Don’t Dance, an underappreciated animated film about a cat trying to make it in Hollywood. Now, Warner Brothers had mixed results with its animated films in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and this one wasn’t exactly a hit when it was released. And while it’s certainly not a classic by any stretch, it is a solid film that has some fun moments in it. The musical numbers are pretty standard, but the story is endearing and the characters (played by notable actors such as Scott Bakula, Jasmine Guy, Kathy Najimy, John Rhys-Davies, George Kennedy, and Don Knotts) are engaging. If you have fond memories of this film, it is now easily available again thanks to Warner’s print-on-demand Warner Archive service.
  • It’s Always Fair Weather – Also from the Warner Archive this week is the Blu-ray debut of It’s Always Fair Weather, a musical starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. I really like this film, mostly because I think the story is so steeped in real life: when three army buddies reunite ten years after the end of World War II, they find that they can’t really stand each other anymore. And while the resulting film isn’t exactly steeped in realism, I like the way this film looks at friendship and the results of these three guys’ time apart. Plus, some of the dance numbers are downright iconic, and so it’s a real winner from start to finish.
  • Duck Dynasty: Season 10 – I am running out of things to say about a show I just don’t care that much about. Duck Dynasty is basically car wreck television. That’s what I call shows that are like car wrecks: you know they’re horrible, but you still can’t turn away. Duck Dynasty isn’t quite horrible, but it is predictable, typical reality TV fare. It’s basically like the Kardashians, just with a bunch of hillbilly, long-bearded duck call makers instead of semi-beautiful, vapid bimbos. Duck Dynasty is simple reality TV, and I can see how it would become addicting if you watched enough of it. But I think I’ll pass.
  • Fitzpatrick Traveltalks: Shorts Volume 3Fitzpatrick Traveltalks is a three disc set consisting of over 60 short travel films (over eight hours’ worth) that see James A. Fitzpatrick travel the world and document it all in full color. These short films are from the 1930s and 40s, and it’s fascinating to see the world in those times. Locales visited include New York City, Rome, New Orleans, Germany, and plenty of other places. Very cool stuff.
  • The Man Who Skied Down Everest – This classic 1970s documentary has been restored and remastered by the Film Detective label, and it is about exactly what the film’s title implies. Winner of the Best Documentary feature Oscar in 1975, the film follows Japanese “alpinist” Yuichiro Miura in his quest to ski down the side of the world’s most dangerous mountain. SO dangerous in fact, that more than one person died in pursuit of Miura’s quest. Did he succeed? Well, I didn’t know before watching this film, and if you don’t know, then I’m not going to tell you. But I will say the film is certainly an engaging and fascinating viewing experience.
  • A Frozen Christmas – Sadly, Anna and Elsa are nowhere to be seen in this animated special that has no ties to Disney or the smash hit Frozen. Unfortunately, the cute cover art is misleading, as the actual CGI animation is relegated simply to interstitials, while the actual stories that make up this anthology are largely presented in voice over with nothing more than patterns and designs on the screen. It’s frankly kind of weird and I can’t see kids watching the animated intros and then being okay with just listening to a story. Odd.
  • Streets of Compton – This documentary charts the rise of hip hop luminaries such as NWA and Doctor Dre, and it features The Game and Lil Eazy-E. Clearly released in the wake of the success of Straight Outta Compton, this two-hour A&E special gives a nice overview of the rise of the rap legends, in a less dramatized way than Straight Outta Compton. So it may be more factual, but SOC is probably the more entertaining way to see the story told. Still, it’s interesting enough, especially for fans of the musical acts represented.
  • Giraffes: Africa’s Gentle Giants – I don’t know that I have a whole lot to say about this documentary beyond that it is quite enjoyable. I’ve always found Giraffes to be endearing animals, and their sheer size and body shape is endlessly fascinating. This nature special gives us a look at the animals in their natural habitat, exploring their lives and their day to day existence, and it’s quite interesting.
  • My Congo – This NATURE special from PBS follows Vianet D. Jenguet, a nature wildlife cameraman who journeys back to his homeland, the Congo, after living in Europe for half his life. This hour-long special explores the country and also Jenguet’s reaction to returning home. Rather than just a straight documentary about the country, this is more of a personal rumination mixed with a travelogue and standard documentary. It’s pretty interesting stuff, especially if you like history and/or geography.
  • Teletubbies: Snowball – I mean, it’s kind of hard to review Teletubbies as an adult man watching the show. I don’t have kids young enough to watch them anymore, so I can’t even gauge if it’s successful on that level. I will tell you that you get six episodes that all have a winter (and vaguely holiday-ish) theme to them, and Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po look and sound pretty much the same as I remember them. Let’s put it this way: if you have kids who like Teletubbies, this is a worthwhile purchase.

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