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Out This Week (In The US): Manchester By The Sea, Nocturnal Animals and more


Manchester by the Sea – With the Academy Awards upon us this weekend, the timing is perfect for this film to hit home video, and also perfect for you to see why Casey Affleck is a frontrunner for Best Actor. The film is a drama by Kenneth Lonergan (a director I typically like quite a bit) about a man whose life is upended when he is left custody of a teenage relative. While it could be overly melodramatic or boring in the wrong hands, Lonergan turns in a terrific movie about relationships, parenting, friendship, anger, and family. Affleck is terrific and the film as a whole is really a top-notch experience. See it before the Oscars if you can, but if not, chances are good you’re going to want to after the ceremony – especially if Affleck picks up a golden statue.

Nocturnal Animals – Speaking of Oscar films, Nocturnal Animals is Tom Ford’s dark noir-esque drama starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, and Armie Hammer. With a cast this terrific, of course the film is worth watching, and the performances really won’t let you down. I wish I liked the film itself better, though. It’s a good movie, without a doubt, but it’s not the kind of movie I would rush out to watch again. It’s dark and complex and slow-burning in places, and while none of those are bad qualities, in this particular case it makes for a movie that is of distinctly high quality, without being as compelling as I’d hoped. It’s definitely worth a watch, but it might not be for everyone.

Bad Santa 2 – Huh. It’s hard to have a lot to say about Bad Santa 2. Did anybody want this sequel? I doubt it. Did anyone think it would be really good? I can’t imagine that many people were optimistic about it. Honestly, it’s been so long since the first film came out (and while it was a moderate hit, it wasn’t a blockbuster), I doubt most people really remember it. I know I barely do. This sequel brings back many of the key players, but it doesn’t really have anything new or – worse – funny to say. It’s not an enjoyable film by any stretch of the imagination, and I think this is one that would have been better left alone.

Bleed for This – Sometimes a movie can be really, really good… without being great. Bleed for This is one of those movies. It’s an inspiring and moving — and at times exciting – boxing drama based on a true story about a man who had to overcome incredible physical hardships to regain his boxing career after a devastating accident. Miles Teller is typically terrific in the lead role and the film is overall very enjoyable. If there’s any major criticism to be had, it’s simply that the film and the filmmaking behind it is pretty by-the-numbers. Teller’s character goes through some more extraordinary setbacks than most boxers in movies do, but in the end, this is a sports biopic and it doesn’t break out of that mold. Like I said, though, it’s still a really good film that I’d recommend watching.

Beauty & the Beast – With Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast about to hit theaters, it’s fair to understand why you might assume this live action movie is just a cheap knockoff designed to capitalize on the upcoming sure-to-be hit. But this French production is actually a full-fledged big-budget production by acclaimed director Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf, Silent Hill) stars Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Colour) and Vincent Cassel (Jason Bourne, Black Swan). Now, admittedly it was made in 2014 and is just now being released on Blu-ray in the US, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a pretty good film. I say pretty good because – while it is visually stunning – it lacks some of the romance and magic you need between Belle and the Beast to really fall for the romance. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it does diminish the fil’s impact a little bit. So while I doubt it will rival the new Disney version, it is a worthwhile viewing experience on its own merits.

Mildred Pierce – Joan Crawford stars in and won her only Oscar for this melodrama, widely considered a classic and one of the best performances of her career. The story is heavy stuff, with Mildred Pierce a mother who dotes on her two daughters only to find that one in particular has turned out to be a pretty terrible person. High melodrama is the name of the game here, but it is classic Hollywood at its best, and Crawford turns in a fierce performance. Of course, the film is also directed by Michael Curtiz (director of Casablanca) which means the film is also a well-crafted character study on its own. Released by The Criterion Collection, the film has been restored and remastered and features a number of great extra features. This one is a must-have!

Stake Land 2Stake Land was a small indie vampire movie that came out a few years ago that has a small but loyal audience. That audience is well-deserved because the film is brilliant: dark, visually exciting, filled with surprises, and presenting a really great take on the vampire genre. While the first film was directed by Jim Mickle – who has gone on to become one of the most unique voices in horror these days – he doesn’t return for the second outing. And while the movie isn’t quite as fresh and engaging as the first one, it’s still a pretty damn good vampire flick. I really like this universe, and I hope we get to see more of it.

Also Available this Week on Blu-ray & DVD:

  • King Cobra – James Franco, Molly Ringwald, and James Franco all play supporting roles in this dramatic semi-thriller based on a true story about a young man who goes into gay pornography and – surprise surprise! – finds himself in over his head. The movie has sort of a true crime drama feel to it, and while the subject matter might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is an interesting look at a world many of us are not all that familiar with. The performances are pretty good across the board, although nothing to rave about, and the film keeps it interesting throughout. If you like true crime stories or are interested in the inner workings of the porn world, check this one out.
  • Grace & Frankie: Season Two – Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston are all terrific in this hit Netflix TV series. The premise is sort of an Odd-Couple-meets… well, I don’t know exactly what. Grace and Frankie are two women with nothing in commaon at all, until their husbands leave the women for each other. The show then deals with the fallout from this decision and becomes a character study with a lot of humor, but some really good emotion as well. The performances are outstanding, and the show is a really good observational series. Definitely check this one out.
  • Bells Are Ringing – This classic Hollywood musical staring Judy Holliday and Dean Martin was based on a hit play and directed by Vicente Minnelli. It makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of the Warner Archive, the on-demand custom-order service from Warner Brothers. I like the film, it’s a fun musical, even though I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but it’s nothing groundbreaking or all that different overall. The real bright spot for me is Judy Holliday, who was a unique talent in my estimation and who was never quite as big a star as I think she could have been. For fans of classic Hollywood, though, this is a nice release.
  • Three Films by Claude Chabrol – This terrific collection is an excellent way to dive into the world of one of the premiere French directors, Claude Chabrol. I’ve always been familiar with Chabrol, but honestly I’d never seen one of his films until this set came along. What I found was an extremely talented filmmaker at the top of his game. While the first film in the set, Betty, is a very dark drama dealing with alcoholism and a life in a downward spiral, the other two films, Torment and The Swindle, veer much more into thriller territory. Torment is based on a script by Henri-George Clouzot and features one of my favorite French actors, Francois Cluzet (alongside the stunning Emmanuelle Beart) as a husband who becomes obsessed with his wife’s actions. The Swindle, meanwhile, is a more traditional con film, with Isabelle Huppert as one of the con artists and Cluzet (again) as the victim of the con. Both films are terrific, and I really enjoyed delving into the world of Chabrol’s films. Consider this a primer that makes education fun.
  • Seasons – From the filmmakers behind the widely acclaimed Winged Migration comes Seasons, which traces the journey of the forests of Europe from the ice age to the dawn of man. Which sounds heady, but ultimately, the main thrust of the film is to introduce us to the lives of the inhabitants of these forests, giving us some amazing footage of bears, horses, birds, foxes, and many more. This is more than just a nature documentary; it’s a visually stunning look at a side of the world most of us will never see in person, and it’s utterly gorgeous. Track this one down.
  • The Level: Series 1 – Noel Clarke and Laura Haddock (both favorites of mine) star alongside Karla Chrome and Robert James-Collier in this tense cop drama/thriller series. Chrome plays Detective Sergeant Devlin, a good cop with a secret: her father figure is a criminal drug lord. When he gets murdered, Devlin has to investigate the crime while keeping her involvement a secret. It’s one of those shows that will have you biting your fingernails as the tension ratchets at every turn. The performances are uniformly excellent, while the story is filled with twists and turns, a solid mystery, and more than enough intensity to carry viewers through the entire season. Fans of British cop television – probably the best cop TV in the world – will definitely enjoy this one.

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