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Out This Week (In The US) – Loving, Masterminds, The Take, Desierto & more

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Loving – Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star in this moving true story about a married interracial couple in 1958 Virginia, at a time when interracial marriage was actually illegal in the United States. Which sounds like a completely unbelievable thing, but it’s actually what life was like in parts of this country in the 1950s. Edgerton and Negga both turn in searing performances as a couple that just wants to be left alone to live their lives and instead end up changing the state of affairs in this country. The film isn’t a fast-moving thriller, but there are some great courtroom sequences, and director Jeff Nichols (who also wrote and directed the fantastic Mud starring Matthew McConaughey) knows how to take a small film and make it instantly gripping. Definitely check this one out before the Academy Awards.

Masterminds – Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, and Jason Sudeikis starring together in a movie should be comedy gold, but Masterminds was pretty much a non-starter at the box office. So was it because the film wasn’t promoted well enough or was it because it’s a bad movie? Well, I’ve got news for you. This film could have all the marketing in the world and it wouldn’t have helped any. Honestly, it’s one of the worst movies I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through. It’s not even remotely funny, there isn’t one single likable character in the film, and the whole thing is a train wreck from start to finish. Honestly, don’t be fooled by the great cast; just avoid this movie at all costs.

The Take – Surprisingly, The Take turns out to not only be one of the single best action films of 2016 – if not THE best — it also makes a terrific case for why Idris Elba would make a great James Bond, or at the very least, why he should be the next Liam Neeson. Co-starring Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden, the film sees Elba as a typically rogue/not-by-the-book CIA agent working in Paris. Madden plays a pickpocket who steals a bag that holds a terrorist bomb and becomes mistakenly accused of being a terrorist. And of course, the two team up. It’s nothing revolutionary, but Elba makes a dashing action lead, and the film does what so many action films don’t these days: It gives us a basically interesting story peppered with GOOD action sequences. Gun fights, fistfights, car chases, it has it all, and they’re all well-constructed, not overly-edited to the point where you can’t see what’s happening. I really liked this film, and I definitely recommend checking it out if you’re looking for a good action film.

Desierto – Co-written and directed by Jonas Cuaron (brother of Gravity’s Alfonso Cuaron), Desierto is not only a tense thriller, but also an extremely timely film. Gael Garcia Bernal stars as a Mexican trying to illegally cross into America. Jeffrey Dean Morgan stars as the hard drinking American “patriot” who murders most of the immigrants as they cross the desert with a high-powered rifle. The film then becomes a game of cat-and-mouse between Morgan and Bernal along with a few other survivors. It’s a tense, taut thriller with terrific performances by both Bernal and Morgan, with the hostile desert locale acting as another main character in the proceedings. This movie didn’t get a lot of attention, but it’s definitely worth tracking down.

Justice League Dark – The DC Animated Universe continues its foray into R-Rated territory with Justice League Dark, a new animated film that combines traditional superheroes (or Batman, at least) with magic-based characters from the DC Universe. I generally like the DC Universe animated films – or at least I do when they don’t feature Damien Wayne, the most annoying character ever created – and this one is a pretty good effort overall. It was neat to see an animated John Constantine, long one of my favorite DC characters, and the film is a little different from most of the more recent DC films. It still devolves into an action spectacle at the end, but with magic mixed in, which makes it more interesting. I liked it.

American Pastoral – Ewan McGregor (a favorite of mine) both stars in and makes his directorial debut in this family-based drama. With Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning in co-starring roles, the film portrays a family in crisis. And while it might not be the light fare you’re looking for on a Friday night, it’s a pretty good film overall. McGregor isn’t the next Spielberg or anything, but he isn’t trying to be. This is a small character study; in other words, the perfect film for a first time director. The result is a movie filled with good performances and quiet moments that work really well. It’s not a complete slam dunk, and there are people who just won’t be interested in it, but if you are, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Frank & Lola – Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots star in this noir-infused drama which sees the odd couple of Shannon and Poots in a damaged, obsessive relationship. It’s not quite a full-on thriller but it has moments that feel like they come out of one. Unfortunately, the film is all surface and no depth, and what we get is a look at two people who shouldn’t be in a relationship in the first place falling out into the realm of danger and anger. I respect Michael Shannon as an actor but he’s not a guy who I LIKE watching, and this film doesn’t really change that opinion. Unless you’re a die-hard fan of either actor, I would skip this one.

Also available on Blu-ray & DVD this week:

  • Dirty Dancing: 30th Anniversary Edition – Another year, another edition of Dirty Dancing. This one goes on my shelf next to the 25th Anniversary Edition, the 20th Anniversary Edition, The Limited Keepsake Edition, The Just Because Edition… the list goes on. Look, I love Dirty Dancing as much as the next guy (or at least the next guy who loves Dirty Dancing) but the constant re-releases of the film are a bit much. This one offers a handful of extra features such as never-before-seen interviews with Patrick Swayze and celebrity fan tributes to Dirty Dancing. I don’t know that it’s worth buying if you already own a previous version, but if not, it’s a great edition overall.
  • Vice Principals: The Complete First Season – I really don’t like Danny McBride. I haven’t liked him in pretty much any role he’s ever played, nor have I liked any movie he was in. I wasn’t a fan of Eastbound & Down because I couldn’t take watching Danny McBride week after week. And now we have Vice Principals, which stars… Danny McBride. Of course, it also stars Walton Goggins, who I’m a big fan of, so… what to do? Well, of course I watched it. And I hate to be predictable, but I really didn’t like this show. McBride plays the typical McBride alpha male, and the humor just seems like the kind of thing we’ve seen too many times before. Crass, boisterous, and annoying: am I describing McBride or the show? Yes.
  • Almost Christmas – Yep, February, the perfect time for a Christmas movie on home video! I know it’s been the typical timeframe since this movie came out, but I think maybe holding it to a December release would have been a smarter marketing ideas. Theater producer David E. Talbert sees an all-star cast that includes Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union, Omar Epps, Mo’Nique, JB Smoove, and other familiar faces as a quarreling family who have been brought together by the patriarch with one request: get along. Well, you can guess what happens from there. I didn’t think this movie looked very good from the few trailers I saw, and having watched it, I can’t say that I was overwhelmed by it, but it’s not bad. It’s pretty much what you’d expect, which can be a good thing for some people. I’ve seen better, I’ve seen worse.
  • Cross Wars – First things first, if this movie looks and feels like a B-movie, that’s because I’m pretty sure that’s what the filmmakers were going for. At least I hope so. It’s awfully cheesy to NOT have been produced with that feel being intentional. Apparently, this movie is a sequel to 2011’s Cross, which I think I reviewed but honestly I can’t even remember it, and it’s an attempt to make a comic book movie not actually based on a comic book (at least not as far as I can tell.) With Brian Austin Green, Danny Trejo, Tom Sizemore, and Vinnie Jones, the film is definitely filled with familiar B-movie stars and the result is a cheesy action film that fans of cheesy action films will probably enjoy. And everyone else won’t.
  • From Dusk Till Dawn: Season Three – I enjoyed the first season of From Dusk Till Dawn, even though it was basically a ten-hour version of a two-hour movie. Since the show was a hit for the El Rey Network, of course the story had to go somewhere new to continue it, and so Season Two and now Season Three were born. This time around, we follow our crew of “heroes” in the aftermath of Season Two. The crew is up against the Culebras, or snake-vampires, and things get more and more dangerous as the season goes on. I’ve never felt like this is a perfect show, but I do enjoy it.
  • Graves: Season One – Nick Nolte stars as a previous President of the United States who decides to go back and right his administration’s wrongs after a couple of decades out of office. The comedy is not only relatively timely, but it also has an absolutely stellar cast that also includes Sela Ward, Skylar Astin, Nia Vardalos, Ernie Hudson, Chris Lowell, and Callie Hernandez. Nolte is in fine form as a guy who speaks his mind and says pretty much anything he wants, which leads to some funny moments. The show isn’t necessarily must-see TV, but it’s at least enjoyable and has some interesting moments, especially considering a number of real life politicians show up in cameos.
  • Life on the Line – I let myself get sucked into direct-to-video movies way too often. And the reason is that sometimes they’re really good. But most times, they’re pretty bad. And unfortunately Life on the Line is not one of the good ones. Now, I figured that with a cast that includes John Travolta, Sharon Stone, Kate Bosworth, Julie Benz, Gil Bellows, Ty Olsson, and Devon Sawa, there had to be some merit to this film. But instead what I got was 90 minutes of cookie-cutter characters (guilt-riddled dad, pregnant daughter, wrong-side-of-the-tracks boyfriend, alcoholic neighbor, etc.) with about five minutes of action at the end. It’s nice that someone finally made a movie about linemen – which is apparently a very dangerous profession – but I wish it was a better film than this.
  • The 9th Life of Louis Drax – Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) star in this intriguing but ultimately flat dramatic film about a young boy who appears to defy death after having eight near-death accidents in his young life. The mystery then becomes why has this young boy defied death, and will he do it again when he suffers a fall from a cliff and is now in a coma? From there, we see Louis’s journey through his subconscious (not my favorite parts of the movie) while his doctor tries to both save him and romance his mother. And where is Louis’s father and how does he fit into it all. It’s an interesting film, but it never really quite gels into a cohesive whole. Worth a look but not as satisfying as I hoped for.
  • The Eagle Huntress – Chances are you haven’t heard of this movie, but if you have, you’ve probably heard near universal acclaim for it. And it’s well-deserved. On the surface, it may not seem like the most interesting subject for a documentary, but the film is pretty beautiful. It follows 13-year-old Aisholpan, a young girl who wants to become the first female in twelve generations of her family in Kazakhstan to become an eagle hunter. (That’s a person who uses eagles to hunt with, not someone who actually hunts eagles.) Framed by some amazing locales and cinematography, the film is a fascinating portrait of a culture so unlike our own that it’s almost alien. Then you throw in this determined young girl and her doting father and the film wins you over. A unique movie and a highly enjoyable one.
  • Nerdland – Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt provide voices for this oddball animated movie. The story seems fairly simple, with two pals – an aspiring actor and a screenwriter – making one last ditch attempt to become famous. I’ll keep the details of their quest from you for now so as not to spoil the film, but it’s really a tough movie to watch. It’s clearly aimed at adults, but the ugly animation style makes it hard on the eyes. The humor is crass and Rudd and Oswalt – while doing their jobs well in playing their roles – are not characters you exactly relate to. The movie is too long by half and also not terribly funny, and that combined with the animation and the weak characters, make for a largely disappointing film.
  • Burn Country – Melissa Leo and James Franco co-star with lead actor Dominic Rains in this drama that is certainly a timely entry into the movie landscape. Rains plays an immigrant from Afghanistan who ends up in Northern California. He ends up investigating the disappearance of the friend who helped him get into the country, and a memorable parade of small-town characters enter the picture from there. The film is less a mystery, however, than a study of this character and his interactions with a world different than his own. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I wish the film had been more suspenseful or thrilling. It’s definitely a drama and while there’s clearly some talent at work, the film was too slow for me to really enjoy, despite some good performances.
  • Power Rangers Dino Charge: The Complete Season – This latest collection of the hit kids show features the current series of the Power Rangers, which wisely mixes dinosaur-shaped zords back into the mix. Obviously this is for kids, but I think as far as entertainment for youngsters go, there’s a lot worse than this. The show is still cheesetastic as all get out, but that’s me saying that with a critical adult eye. Kids should eat it up. This time around, instead of the usual four-episodes-per-disc formula, we get the whole season in one nice package. A treat for kids and fans of the show.
  • Baby Baby Baby – I like rom-coms as much as the next guy or gal, but I skip a lot of them because so often they’re just more of the same. But I like a lot of the cast in this film (Adrienne Palicki, Kelsey Grammar, James Roday, Dennis Haysbert, Cloris Leachman, William Shatner) and it seemed like it could be fun. Now, most of the big name cast members are simply extended cameos, but the film does have its heart in the right place. It does do some things differently (there are mini-movies of a sort that fit in the narrative) and I liked the writing, which is pretty sharp. I also appreciate that the film tries to present a realistic look at relationships. It doesn’t revolutionize the genre, but it’s a fun take on a tired genre.
  • Beyond Redemption – Lead actor Brian Ho is a veteran stuntman, and here he marks his first starring role. He plays an undercover cop (of course he does, it’s an Asian action film!) in Vancouver who finds himself deeper and deeper into enemy territory. It’s not a high-budget film, and while Ho has all the physical parts down pat (there are some pretty kick-ass fight scenes), he’s not exactly a great actor. The film is a pretty high-octane ride overall and I like a good action flick, but it’s nothing special overall. Good for fans of the genre, though.
  • Sesame Street: Singing With the Stars 2 – This latest Sesame Street collection is a themed compilation featuring musical numbers with several big name stars, including Gwen Stefani, Michael Buble, Macklemore, Fifth Harmony, OK Go, and others. It’s kind of like a music video compilation, but filled with songs that both you and your pre-schoolers will enjoy. Sesame Street is obviously a classic for a reason, but I like how they ix things up to keep it current and keep parents engaged as well. You get almost two hours of content on this terrific DVD entry,
  • Shaun The Sheep: Seasons 3 & 4 – These four-disc set is the latest collection of 5-minute shorts from the creators of Wallace & Gromit. You might have seen these clever cartoons (all done in claymation) as interstitials (and later a regular series and movie) on Disney Junior, and they really are a lot of fun. What I especially like about them is that my kids think they’re hysterical, but as an adult I also really enjoy the humor as they’re very smartly written. You get a full season collection, ensuring plenty to watch for your kids (six hours worth, as a matter of fact!) Lots of fun.
  • Shimmer & Shine: Friendship Divine – My kids have grown out of most of the Nick Jr. shows, so I don’t really get to see any of them anymore, which means now there are starting to be series on the network that I’d never even heard of. Until these DVDs started crossing my desk last year Shimmer and Shine is one of them. Turns out it’s a really cute little show about a girl named Leah who has two genies-in-training who try to help her out. With emphasis on the “in-training” part, things often go wrong. It’s a fun series that younger kids will definitely enjoy, and this DVD includes 7 episodes.
  • Sabrina Down Under – Hmmm. I don’t know why exactly Nickelodeon decided now was the time to release a one-off DVD from the old Sabrina the Teenage Witch TV series starring Melissa Joan Hart, but they did. This one is one of the multi-part episodes which stands alone here as a TV movie. This one sees Sabrina on vacation in Australia, and of course romance, magic, and Wacky Hijinks (capitalized on purpose) ensue. I mean, I always thought this show was kind of fun if a bit cheesy, and this movie certainly fits right into those categories. I guess if you’re a fan and you don’t already own the full season sets, this is a fun throwback.
  • Antibirth – Natasha Lyonne and Chloe Sevigny star in this drug-fueled horror movie that feels like a drug trip in and of itself. The pair star as best friends who coast through life in a drug-induced haze. After a bender, Natasha Lyonne’s Lou finds herself pregnant, but it’s far from a typical pregnancy. I don’t want to give anything away but the film isn’t really all that concerned with story and plot anyway. Instead, it’s a surreal mash-up of crazy imagery, body horror, and loud music (I should mention that the soundtrack is probably the best part of the film.) Honestly, it’s just not my kind of movie, and while I’m sure there’s an audience out there for it, I would say if you lean a little more mainstream, you won’t find much here to get excited about.
  • Dead West – While the cover art invokes a western-set horror movie, this is a modern-era-set film about a man in search of his true love. And when he finds his true love, he kills here. Again and again. Yes, Dead West is really a serial killer movie, albeit one in which he eventually becomes the prey instead of the predator. Lead actor Brian Sutherland is surprisingly good for this kind of movie, especially a low-budget one like this. That’s the good. The bad is that the script needs a lot of work, and the film as a whole doesn’t do a lot to set itself apart from other entries in the genre. Not the best, but not the worst, either.
  • Come What May – While ostensibly a World War II film, this one focuses on a much lesser-seen part of the era. It tells the story of the people of a small town in France that flee when the Nazis invade France. It follows a number of characters as they leave their homes and deal with the fall out of the invasion, and while there are some action-y scenes, it’s more of a drama than anything else. The performances are universally good and the characters present a realistic look at what was surely a difficult life. It won’t cross party lines and capture the imaginations of most non-arthouse film lovers, but for people who like more intellectual fare, it’s worth a look.
  • Aurora: Fire in the Sky – The Aurora Borealis (and similar phenomenon) is one of the most recognizable natural spectacles in the world. This special from PBS takes a look at the spectral phenomenon and how it occurs. More than just a science documentary, however, this hour-long special also looks at the legends that have sprung up around the aurora, making this a mix of hard documentary and philosophical treatise. It’s a pretty interesting program overall, and if you want to see some amazing visuals, check it out.
  • Playtime with Caillou – This is the latest DVD release of the popular cartoon, with a good handful of episodes. This show is kind of your basic kids’ show. A young boy has adventures in parks and playgrounds and such, and learns lessons about everything from friendship and helping to winning and losing. It’s pretty typical kids fare for the younger set, but that’s not a bad thing. Plus, the low price point is a bonus looking for kids’ entertainment. You get an hour’s worth of episodes, and young kids will enjoy it.

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