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Out This Week (In The US): Bad Day at Black Rock, Jack Reacher 2, Yoga Hosers & more

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – Man, did I enjoy this movie! I liked the first Jack Reacher movie, but I didn’t love it. I felt like it was a good action flick but it didn’t quite fire on every level for me. So I went into this second film looking forward to it but not overly excited, and I ended up really enjoying it. The story is more interesting, the characters are more fleshed out, and Tom Cruise still kicks ass as Jack Reacher. I know some of the books’ fans complain because Cruise doesn’t physically fit with the character’s description in the novels, but I really like Cruise’s portrayal of this steely bad-ass. He’s tough and can fight like hell, but the film also shows that he’s human, covered with cuts and bruises and often aching and sore after a fight. And Cobie Smulders of How I Met Your Mother and the Avengers movies makes a more-than-capable partner for Cruise. Even the potential-daughter storyline that I thought would be annoying helped humanize the character as well as add some good story beats. Just a great action thriller from start to finish.

Boo!: A Madea Halloween (and Madea on the Run) – Ahhh, Madea. I wish I could say that I don’t see why Tyler Perry bothers to continue making Madea movies, but it’s pretty obvious why: they’re still very popular. I think Perry’s actually a good actor (see: Gone Girl) and I think he can make a perfectly fine career for himself as an actor. But the Madea films continue to come out and make significant amounts of money, almost always opening at number one. So why would he stop making them? Now, I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of the films; the ones I’ve seen haven’t really impressed me. Boo: A Madea Halloween is pretty much more of the same. Tyler Perry in drag. A solid ensemble cast. A thin plot. That all said, this is probably one of the better ones of the (admittedly few) Madea films I’ve seen. If you like the character and the films, you’ll probably enjoy this one. Also available this week is Tyler Perry’s Madea on the Run: The Play, which sees another Madea stage play filmed and released on DVD, which makes a nice companion piece.

Poltergeist II and III – Shout Factory’s Scream Factory Imprint continues to crush it with their premium horror releases, this month giving us Poltergeist II and III on Blu-ray for the first time. Each one comes loaded with new extra features, plus there’s that gorgeous slipcover art and reversible cover artwork. Now, Poltergeist is a horror classic. Poltergeist II is a decent sequel that isn’t as bad as many horror sequels of the ‘80s were. The fact that the cast returns and the story continues from the first film makes it feel more like an actual continuation of the story and not just a cheap cash-in. Then there’s Poltergeist III, which sees the return of young Carol Anne but transplants her to a high-rise building with surrogate family members. It’s an interesting take (but really, how many haunted houses could the family move into?) and despite some flaws, I enjoy it overall. A quality job as usual.

Yoga Hosers – Remember when Kevin Smith made movies people paid attention to? So do I. I don’t know exactly what happened to him, but after two horror movie outings with Tusk and Red State, Smith returns to the comedy fold with Yoga Hosers, which is a comedy with… well, bratzis. As in, Nazis made out of bratwurst. And no I’m not kidding. Clearly, Smith wants to live in the horror world for a while but he also clearly wanted to get back into comedy. This time he casts his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith alongside Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose Depp, which makes it harder to take the movie seriously as an actual film and not just a passion project that works as a chance for Smith and his buddy Johnny Depp (who also stars in the film as he did in Tusk, under heavy make-up and with a French accent) to make a movie with their kids. There are a ton of other Smith regulars as well, like Ralph Garman, Justin Long, Jason Mewes, Jennifer Schwalbach (his wife), Haley Joel Osment, and more. There are also some nice throwbacks to Smith’s early films like Clerks, and while the movie has some fun moments, it still isn’t quite what I was hoping for. I enjoyed it more than I didn’t, but it doesn’t come close to any of Smith’s classic comedies.

Bad Day at Black Rock – Spencer Tracy stars in this classic film about a mysterious one-armed stranger (not the one who killed The Fugitive’s wife!) and the small town that wants nothing to do with him. With co-stars Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Walter Brennan, Tracy and director John Sturges craft a terrific tale of a man on a mission facing seemingly overwhelming odds to perform an action he thinks is the right and honorable thing to do. Tracy has rarely been better, and the film is taut and quick at only 81 minutes. Now on Blu-ray for the first time thanks to the Warner Archive print-on-demand service (www.warnerarchive.com), now is the perfect time to revisit this true classic.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • Parents – Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt star in this cult classic black comedy/horror hybrid from 1989. Released as part of the new Vestron Video line from Lionsgate. The duo plays a couple of parents in 1950s America whose young son begins to suspect that they may be – gulp! – cannibals. Available on Blu-ray for the first time and loaded with extra features, this is a terrific home video release. As for the film itself, well… it’s worth checking out. It has some fun moments and Quaid’s over-the-top role is a lot of fun. But it’s not a great movie. It’s more one of those things you watch as a curiosity rather than a film you’re really going to fall in love with. Still, it is a great package overall for those who are already fans of the film.
  • Lair of the White Worm – This movie is much more interesting for its cast than it is as a movie itself. With Hugh Grant in a supporting lead role, I was interested. Watching the film and realizing that current Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi, is actually the main character (despite his fourth billing and the fact that he’s almost unrecognizable because he’s so young) and suddenly the film becomes more interesting. A weird sort of hybrid of vampire/cult/dragon (sort of) film, the movie itself is a mix of horror and black comedy, and while it does feel terribly dated, there are enough gonzo moments to keep it interesting. It’s not a great film by any stretch, but it certainly is an interesting time capsule of the 1980s.
  • Ballers: The Complete Second Season – Dwayne Johnson stars as an ex-football player turned wannabe financial advisor to the stars in this terrific HBO series. It’s a half-hour show that is ostensibly a comedy, but it’s very much in the vein of something like Entourage, sort of a dramedy more than anything else. There are serious story lines at play here, but there is a lot of humor to be found as well. Dwayne Johnson is charismatic as hell — as always — in the lead role, and the fact that the show is littered with real NFL stars and coaches playing themselves adds to the authenticity. I love this show!
  • Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks – I love how committed the BBC is to bringing out classic Doctor Who episodes on DVD, no matter how that happens. Take Power of the Daleks, for example. It’s from the first season of second Doctor Patrick Troughton’s run as The Doctor, and obviously it’s a notable one because of how popular the Daleks are. Long lost, most of the episodes have survived only in audio form for the past 50 years. Now the BBC has gone back and – like they’ve done with previous lost episodes – recreated the episodes in animated form using the original audio. How cool is that? Sure, it’s not the same as seeing the original episodes, but it’s the next best thing and becomes its own sort of viewing experience. I like it, and I like it a lot.
  • The Handmaiden – Acclaimed director Park Chan-Wook returns with his latest film which is – as can be expected from Park – somewhat unexpected. Instead of a twisted action thriller like Oldboy or Lady Vengeance, The Handmaiden is a crime thriller that deals with a rich young Japanese woman and her handmaiden who is out to con her out of her riches. And even though it’s different from the usual Park fare, it also fits right into to his oeuvre, if you know what I mean. Based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (which I’m not familiar with) the film is a dark and intriguing tale that is told stylistically, as you would expect. It’s not a slam dunk the whole way through, but Park fans will like it and it is interesting enough to make some new fans along the way.
  • Black Dragon’s Revenge – Is it Blaxploitation or is it martial arts mayhem? The answer is both. 70s cult icon Ron van Clief stars in this fun ‘70s actioner that sees van Clief who is trying to solve the mystery of – wait for it – the death of Bruce Lee. Yep, it’s surprisingly meta for the 1970s. Of course, this leads to the usual madness and high octane chaos that follows in both of these genres of films. There’s no denying the fact that the film has aged and it’s clearly not a big-budget production, but if you love the kind of movies that screen at 3 AM on a random cable channel, you’ll love this one.
  • Barbie: Video Game Hero – You’ve gotta hand it to Mattel and Universal: they are really dialing in on the Barbie movies. Released about three or four a year, the Barbie movies are cheaply-computer-animated films are pretty simple overall, but they try to really capture what’s popular at the moment with young girls. They’ve done everything from horse-themed stories to dog-themed stories to spy stories to this new film, which features a video game theme. Watching these movies as an adult male is pretty challenging, but they’re perfect for the Barbie target age-range.
  • Leonard Cohen: I’m You’re Man – A terrific primer on Leonard Cohen for those who may not be as familiar with his music as they are with his name, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, a film about the late composer and musician. Mixed within the film are not only clips of Cohen’s recordings, but also newly recorded versions of Cohen’s songs by musical luminaries such as U2, Nick Cave, Beth Orton, Rufus & Martha Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker, and more. Then there are live performances, interviews and the like, and the end result is a nice overview of Cohen’s music that should appeal to die-hard fans and newbies alike.
  • (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies – Does this movie present a pro-heavy look at lying or a con-heavy look at lying? The answer is yes. Exploring how lying is a part of the fabric of most people’s make-up, the film relies less on scientific evidence and more on anecdotal evidence, although it still presents a pretty compelling picture. If you’re looking for some idea at what lies behind phenomenon like “alternative facts,” this program might give you some insights.
  • Weapon Hunter – This terrific show might seem like it’s only for war-movie aficionados, but it actually is much more wide-appealing than that. Host Paul Shull is a weapons fanatic who wants to hold and/or fire pretty much every weapon ever invented. Here, he focuses largely (but not exclusively) on war-era weaponry, and in his travels he educates us on (and fires!) weapons such as World War II sniper rifles, Civil War-era cannons, and mobile machine guns. We also get a look at a tank destroyer, a flamethrower, and a super-rare rifle. There are only five episodes included in this set, but I hope this show returns because it is really compelling stuff.
  • Silicon Cowboys, Jim: The James Foley Story, Danny Says, and Gimme Danger – There are four new documentaries out this week, each of which have something interesting to offer It’s easy to forget that Apple wasn’t always IBM’s only competitor. In the early 1980s, Compaq came on the scene and gave IBM a run for its money as well. Silicon Cowboys tells that story, and it’s a pretty interesting documentary film that follows the company from its inception to, well… I don’t want to give it away. The film is expertly paced, running just under an hour and 20 minutes, which is nice because it avoids the problem I have with many documentaries, which is that they just go on too long. Worth a look if you are interested in American corporate history or computers in general. Jim: The James Foley Story tells the life story of James Foley, the American reporter who was captured and beheaded by ISIS in 2014. While it presents a very even picture of Foley, the fact that it was directed by a childhood friend of Foley’s gives the film an intimacy that is missing from many of these types of documentaries. Danny Says is another biography, this one focusing on Danny Fields. While not a household name, Fields managed or promoted seminal bands like The Doors, Lou Reed, MC5, The Ramones, and The Stooges. While I’m not into that particular genre of music particularly, there’s no denying that Fields was an influencer and his impact is hard to ignore. Interesting stuff. Finally, Gimme Danger is a nice companion piece to Danny Says, as it presents the story of Iggy Pop and The Stooges. The difference between this and many music documentaries is that it’s directed by indie auteur and cult favorite director Jim Jarmusch. At the end of the day, it’s still a music documentary, but it definitely has a sense of style to it and fans of Iggy Pop should enjoy it quite a bit.

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