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Out This Week (In The US): The Girl On The Train, The Accountant, Train to Busan and more

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Train To Busan

The Girl on the Train – I had high hopes for the film adaptation of The Girl on the Train. I read Paula Hawkins’ book shortly after it came out, and while I liked it overall, it took a while to get going for me and I liked the story more than I liked the writing. But it did seem tailor-made for a cinematic version, and with Emily Blunt perfectly cast in the lead role, I was excited to see it. Yet critics and audiences were lukewarm to it. So… is it worth watching? Without a doubt, yes. Is it a truly, truly great movie? Well, maybe not, but it didn’t necessarily have to be, either. The comparisons to Gone Girl are rampant (and not entirely undeserved) and while I don’t feel like this film lives up to the quality of that one, it’s still pretty entertaining. Emily Blunt is fantastic as usual, and while the film might not completely blow you away, it still makes for an entertaining thriller. And sometimes, that’s all I need.

The Accountant – Ben Affleck stars in The Accountant, an intriguing film about an accountant with Autism. Sounds exciting, right? Well, this accountant is – to borrow a phrase from another action franchise – a man with a particular set of skills. I’m sure if you saw the ads for the film you know that the autism angle isn’t played for laughs or in any way meant to be demeaning to people with Autism. It’s more of an exploration of what somebody who’s high functioning but with special needs would be like if their particular mindset was funnelled into a world of accounting in a world of crime and assassination. I didn’t get to see this film in theaters, but if I had, it probably would have made my Top Ten films of 2016. It’s absolutely fantastic. The story is intriguing and doesn’t roll everything out at once, leaving you to have to figure much of the story out as major plot points are slowly revealed. The action scenes are terrific and the cast (which includes Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, and Jon Bernthal) are all in top form. I really enjoyed this move, and I highly recommend it.

Kevin Hart: What Now? – While the ads for Kevin Hart’s latest film made it look like some kind of action comedy, it’s actually a stand-up special that features an opening sequence that sees Hart trying to get to the gig; that’s where the comedy sequences come into play. From there, the film sees Hart playing to an at-capacity crowd in a football stadium, which is a massive crowd for a stand-up comedian. From there, we are treated to pretty typical Kevin Hart stand-up, and in this case “pretty typical” equals pretty damn funny. I like Kevin Hart a lot; I find him enjoyable in movies and I really enjoy his stand-up. While not every joke is a hit, he gets the big laughs more often than not, and I found myself laughing a lot. If you’re a fan of Hart’s (or even if you’re not), check this one out; you will definitely have a lot of fun.

Ouija: Origin of Evil – Did the original Ouija really need a sequel? Did anyone want one? I didn’t even realize the first film was a big enough success to warrant a sequel. Or, more accurately, a prequel, which is what Ouija: OOE actually is. This time, the film stars Rosemary DeWitt (such a talented actress – not sure why she feels the need to star in movies like this.) Ultimately the film is pretty similar in tone to the original; it’s also pretty similar in quality. Meaning, it’s not great, and it’s not bad. It’s just okay. One thing to note, however; there’s an after the credit scene which is pretty important in tying the two films together, so be sure to watch it.

Train to Busan – Easily the best zombie movie I’ve seen in a few years, Train to Busan is a Korean film that is absolutely phenomenal. It falls into the “fast zombies” category, so zombie purists may not be into it, but it makes a perfect trilogy capper with Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead and Brad Pitt’s World War Z. The bulk of the film is set on a bullet train that’s being overrun by zombies, and as things become more dire, our group of survivors dwindles quickly. While the characters certainly fit into some archetypal stereotypes, there are also enough interesting characters to get wrapped up in so that you start to really feel it every time one of them falls to another bite. The action is non-stop, the film is well-made, and it’s a pulse-pounding action/horror movie for nearly two straight hours. I loved this movie and I can’t recommend it highly enough to horror fans tired of sub-par zombie shlock.

Death Race 2050 – I’m a huge fan of Roger Corman’s original Death Race 2000. It’s campy, but it’s also a spot-on satire and a really good chunk of cheesy sci-fi fun. The 2000s remake (and the resultant direct-to-video sequels)with Jason Statham was a huge let down — not only because I’m a huge Statham fan and the film just wasn’t that good — but also because it stripped any of the fun or commentary of the original and instead presented just a straightforward action film. The new Death Race 2050, produced by Corman, aims to bring back some of the fun, but does it succeed? Well, yes, more so than not. It still doesn’t live up to the original, but it certainly has much more of the madcap spirit of that film than the Statham-led franchise was. It’s not the best film I’ve seen recently, but it is a certain amount of fun.

Come and Find Me – Aaron Paul stars in this film that – on the surface – looks like a typical direct-to-video crime thriller. What sets it apart are three things. One: Aaron Paul is a better actor than most of what you see in the usual DTV release. Two: It’s a twisty, oddball film that has a story that could be described as either “intriguing” or “just plain weird.” Three: It’s written and directed by Zach Whedon, better known as Joss Whedon’s younger brother, and also his collaborator on several TV and comic book projects. Because of these three things, the film is definitely better than the usual fare in this genre, and while it has its fault (it is pretty hard to follow on occasion) it’s certainly an interesting film with some exciting moments. Worth a watch.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • The Whole Truth – Keanu Reeves stars alongside Rene Zellweger and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (who’s always terrific) in this legal thriller. And I hate to review movies like this. Because, honestly, it’s a perfectly fine legal potboiler. The central mystery is interesting enough, the trial scenes have some decent tension, and the familiar faces in the cast are always welcome. But there’s nothing particularly good or bad about it. It’s enjoyable enough to sit through, but it’s not particularly exciting or groundbreaking. I mean, there’s a reason that the film went direct to video. It’s an easy enough way to kill a couple of hours, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to track it down.
  • Rizzoli & Isles: The Seventh and Final Season – I’ve watched very little of Rizzoli & Isles over the years. It’s ot that I don’t like it, I just haven’t always got the time to invest in every show I come across. But the show is easy to get into, and quite enjoyable. Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander are terrific as an odd couple police detective and medical examiner who are best friends but complete opposites. The cases are compelling, the actors have a lot of chemistry, and I found it pretty enjoyable overall. If you’re a fan, you will want this final season collection to complete your set.
  • Long Way North – This beautiful animated film follows Sacha, a young Russian aristocrat in the 19th century, who’s always been a bit of a free spirit. When her explorer grandfather (who she’s always idolized) doesn’t return from a scientific expedition to the North Pole, Sacha sets out on her own adventure in search of her Grandfather. More than just an adventure film, however, the movie also explores the idea of one’s place in the world, as Sacha comes from a family that disapproves of her free-spirit nature and has already arranged a politically-advantageous marriage for her. It’s heavy stuff for a cartoon, but it goes to show that animation isn’t just a kids’ medium.
  • The Love Boat: Season Three, Volumes One & Two – Now this is a piece of my childhood! I absolutely loved (no pun intended) The Love Boat as a kid, and revisiting it now – while still filled with cheesy moments – is an awful lot of fun. Split over two DVD releases, the third season is the pretty typical Love Boat A swath of A-to-B-list guest stars join the cruise ship with their various problems or adventures, and within an hour, they’re all solved and back in love. If you can’t have fun with that, I don’t know what to offer you. Guest stars in this season include: Mark Harmon, Phyllis Diller, Don Ameche, Don Knotts, Julie Newmar, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (!), Jill St. John, Sonny Bono, Loni Anderson, Donny Osmond, Florence Henderson, Hayley Mills, Martin Short, and The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. Come aboard, they’re expecting you!
  • The IT Crowd: The Internet Is Coming – It’s pretty common in British television to wrap up a TV Series with a special episode, or effectively a TV-movie. Sometimes it comes right after the end of the show, other times it comes years later as a sort of reunion. The IT: Crowd: The Internet is Coming occurs fairly soon after the end of The IT Crowd, which was released in a complete series collection just a few months ago. Why this wasn’t included is beyond me, but for those who want to see the final iteration of The IT Crowd, now’s your chance.
  • LEGO Nexo Knights: Season Two – You get two discs of Lego-ey action in the toy company’s latest TV series, Nexo Knights. My son absolutely loves these Lego sets, and he really enjoyed the TV show as well. If you’ve seen Ninjago or any of the Lego Star Wars specials, you know exactly what you’re in for here. Semi-serious storytelling, surprisingly good CGI, and moments of humor that are appropriate for kids. This is a fun show that any Lego fan will probably enjoy.
  • I Love Lucy: Superstar Special #2 – CBS likes to mine the Lucy vault every time a holiday like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day rolls around. This DVD includes the I Love Lucy Superstar Special, which aired back in the ‘50s but is basically two episodes run together. One features John Wayne and the other is where Lucy visits the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Now, this DVD includes the episodes in colorized versions, which at first got my ire up, but then I realized that he DVD also includes the episode in black & white, so all is okay with the world again. Available at a pretty low price point, this is a nice pick-up for a casual Lucy fan who wants to relive a couple of classic episodes.
  • Zero Days – Acclaimed documentarian Alex Gibney returns with Zero Days, which I almost thought was a fictional narrative film at first. Described on the back cover text as a “documentary thriller,” I was confused at first if this was maybe some kind of dramatic re-enactment or something. Sitting down to watch the film, it is most definitely a documentary, but the topic it covers presents some pretty chilling information, hence the “thriller” part of it. Covering the “Stuxnet” malware event of 2012 (in which US and Israel launched a cyberattack on an Iranian nuclear facility, and in which there were many unforeseen consequences as a result), the film is pretty heavy stuff. In fact, if have any major criticisms of it, it’s that it’s a bit too long (it’s just shy of two hours) and that there are some sections which could have been a bit more dumbed-down, or at least fleshed out a bit more for those of us who aren’t tech experts. Still, a timely and chilling documentary.
  • Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy – I’m not sure the world needed another film about Sid Vicious (of the Sex Pistols) and Nancy Spungen, and the tragic ending of their relationship. I mean, I guess I don’t know off the top of my head of any documentary films solely dedicated to them, but it seems like there must be a few. It certainly isn’t a topic that’s been ignored by the media. (I mean, there was a film version of it starring Gary Oldman in 1986.) But this documentary features interviews with many people who were in the Sex Pistols scene and had some insider information, so it does across as a little more credible than something like a fictional narrative might.
  • PBS Documentary Programming – PBS Hits it out of the park this week with several documentary program releases, several of which are really quite fascinating. Command and Control is the first, and it’s utterly riveting. With two versions of the movie (a 90-minute and a two-hour version), the film focuses on a near nuclear meltdown on American soil that was almost our version of Chernobyl. It’s chilling and fascinating. Next up is Black America since MLK, an extremely timely release. PBS luminary Henry Louis Gates Jr. looks at the last 50 years of Black History in America, from the civil rights movements of the ‘60s through the current racial tensions in the US. It’s heavy subject matter, but worthwhile. Pearl Harbor: Into the Arizona is next on tap, and it goes beyond what visitors to the memorial in Hawaii can see and takes us inside the wreck of the Arizona. I’ve always found shipwrecks fascinating, and the combination of amazing shipwreck footage plus the historical aspect of the Pearl Harbor story makes this one an absolute winner. Searching for Augusta tells a story I had never heard before. Augusta Chiwy has spent the last 65 years in obscurity, even though she worked side-by-side with Renee LeMaire, known as the Angel of Bastogne. This program sees a search through history to tell her powerful story. Speaking of stories I’d never heard before, The Battle of Chosin is a chilling documentary about a massive battle during the Korean War that was a devastating challenge for US troops. On Thanksgiving Day in 1950, US troops found themselves surrounded by 85,000 Chinese troops during what was supposed to be a cakewalk movement. This film tells the story of the events of that day and the days that followed, and it’s unforgettable stuff. USO For The Troops is a terrific look at the military’s service organization that provides support for US troops around the world. We’ve all heard about the celebrity-laden tours (which Bob Hope was most famous for), but how does it all work? Who participates? How do the troops feel about it? This show explores all of those aspects of the USO, and it’s extremely interesting. Finally: Mind of a Chef: Season Five features a new chef, Ludo Lefebvre in the spotlight. What I like about this show is that it’s a little bit of everything. We see interesting meals getting prepared, but this is no cooking show.. It’s a hard show to categorize, and it fits more alongside something like Man Vs. Food (spiritually, not in terms of content) than it does a straight cooking show.
  • WordWorld: Let’s Make Music – This is a cute little kids show where all the characters and items are made out of their actual words. It’s an educational show for pre-schoolers, and while my kids are too old for it now, they enjoyed it when they were young, and your kids probably will too. This DVD has a musical theme to it (obviously), which is a nice change from some of the other episodes. Like most PBS kids’ releases, this one is offered at a very low price point.

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