Pick of the Week
What is it? The manager of a sports bar has a rough day with her female staff.
Why see it? There’s a lot to love in the spunky little film about working women and the world they’re forced to be a part of, and it starts with the cast. Regina Hall headlines and delivers a strong performance that sees her run the gamut of emotions over one turbulent day. She’s joined by the fantastic Haley Lu Richardson and others, and they each shine bringing a story filled with ups and downs to vibrant life.
What is it? The IMF is once again tasked with stopping some very bad people.
Why see it? The sixth Mission: Impossible film is the fourth best in the franchise thanks to its incredibly dumb script, but the action is absolutely exquisite. Multiple set-pieces fill the screen from a stellar bathroom brawl to some thrilling street chases to a pretty terrific helicopter sequence, and as has come to be expected with the series most of the action is accomplished practically with Tom Cruise fully engaged in the madness. Toss in a strong supporting cast and you have a great time at the movies, and toss in the numerous and crazy good extra features on these discs and you have a must-own home video release. The film’s a visual stunner already, but it absolutely pops in 4K. This is a release you watch before digging into the extras showing how they did it all and then re-watching the movie again. The script’s a stinker, but when everything else is this damn good who really cares.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes]
What is it? The park revolution at the end of season one sparks new revelations filled with life, death, and spare parts.
Why see it? HBO’s epic series adaptation of Michael Crichton’s far more straightforward genre film continues, and while some of the luster is gone the show remains a visually sharp and narratively engaging adventure. Ethical discussions remain, but the focus this season becomes exploration and revelation (even more than the first season) with answers and outcomes that thrill and delight along the way. Some of the surprise is gone, and it still relies a bit too much on “look he/she’s a cylon! err, host!” but remains entertaining in the process.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? The family behind the largest privately owned ranch in the US faces threats from all sides.
Why see it? Look, Kevin Costner coming to television is a big deal, and happily it’s int he form of a solid dramatic series that’s two parts Taylor Sheridan’s “the West” and one part nighttime soap. Costner’s terrific as the patriarch who still plays a pivotal role in his landscape, and he’s a natural fit into the worldview held by Sheridan’s characters as seen in Hell or High Water, Sicario, and Wind River. Cole Hauser, Kelly Reilly, Wes Bentley, Danny Huston, and more familiar faces help flesh out the story and world.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? An anthology of Christmas horror!
Why see it? There aren’t very many Christmas horror anthologies — I can think of two including this one — but this is easily the 2nd best. Hooray! The connective tissue is weak, and more of the stories disappoint than delight, but genre fans can’t be picky all the time. One of the stories (the one involving a van) is actually pretty solid and easily the best part of the film, but the others are lacking when it comes to writing, effects, performances, and/or engagement. None of them are terrible, and it’s clear the filmmakers know people in Los Angeles (Constance Wu!), but it’s a pretty dull Christmas overall.
[DVD extras: Commentary]
What is it? A UFO crashes into Moscow.
Why see it? This Russian blockbuster is something of a riff on Independence Day — yes, it’s an oddly belated riff — as it focuses on an ensemble facing off against an alien threat. The stories aren’t the same beyond the setup, but there are some fun enough turns involving the alien shells/suits. The effects are incredibly effective throughout the opening sequence but grow a bit sketchier as the film proceeds. One interesting note, the ship only crashes because the Russian military shoots it down, and when the alien says they just want to fix the ship and leave the humans remain aggressive. Not the kind of behavior we typically see in sci-fi/action flicks.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? A newlywed begins to suspect things are amiss with her older, wealthier husband.
Why see it? Not going to lie, this feels at times like a movie that exists solely to get Abbey Lee naked. The setup looks stylish, but as soon as Ciaran Hinds tells Lee not to go into one specific room the film’s major surprise is made predictable. It’s something of a letdown as exactly what you expect to happen actually happens, and there’s nothing new added to the mix. Instead it just unfolds as you think it will, albeit with the always great Carla Gugino hanging out on the sidelines. There’s a gothic feel to it at times, so that’s something.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
What is it? The cast of an old puppet show is being murdered, and only a puppet ex-cop and his human partner can solve the mystery.
Why see it? This feels like a movie that really should have worked. It’s essentially an R-rated Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in theory, as it’s a world where people and puppets co-exist even as the latter group are looked down upon by people. Melissa McCarthy stars as the human cop too, but while she’s trying to salvage the material here the script and direction are just so lifeless. It doesn’t help that her puppet co-star is is voiced so straight and dull as to sap the humor (what humor there is) from every line. Yes we get puppets swearing and jizzing all over the walls, but it’s never funny. And that’s a crime.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel, featurettes, commentary]
What is it? A class reunion descends into bloodshed when a decade-old prank comes back to haunt them.
Why see it? This early 80s comedy doesn’t get mentioned much and certainly not in the same breath as National Lampoon’s biggest hits including Animal House and Vacation, but the cachet is there as it’s John Hughes’ first feature comedy script. That doesn’t mean it’s funny, of course, but the jokes and gags feel very much of the Lampoon world. It’s tempting to lay some blame with the cast of mostly lesser known talents lacking any real star turns, but they do their best with Hughes’ script as it riffs on slasher films like Slaughter High and Terror Train.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, interview]
What is it? A suicide gives entry to an evil entity dressed like a nun.
Why see it? This is the fifth film in The Conjuring universe — after the original and its sequel plus the Annabelle spin-off and its prequel — and the franchise is showing no sign of slowing down. It feels a bit more limited than the others as it takes plus almost entirely in the dark hallways and rooms of a creepy European convent, but it delivers plenty of chills and a few legitimate scares along the way. The film features some of the expected jump scares, but it also gives time to the more artful, atmospheric, and effective scares without obnoxious sound cues. Turn out the lights, turn up the volume, and get thee to a nunnery.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
What is it? An alien species arrives and begins taking control of people.
Why see it? Robert Heinlein’s classic novel gets the big screen treatment, and while it loses something in the translation it remains a fun B-movie with a killer cast including Donald Sutherland, Keith David, Will Patton, Yaphet Kotto, Richard Belzer, Julie Warner, and Eric Thal doing his best David Duchovny impression. The practical effects work is pretty great, the action is thrilling, and while the script leans a bit dumb at times the entertainment value overrides the silliness. Kino’s new Blu comes loaded with extras offering a detailed look into its production. (Just skip the booklet essay by Samuel R. Delany though.)
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, documentary, interviews, featurettes]
What is it? A ride-share driver is caught up with a passenger and a madman.
Why see it? This little thriller opens well with an engaging premise and three amiable enough leads, and through the first act at least the tease that something’s not quite right works to hold our attention. Once the male passenger goes a bit psycho, though, the movie becomes relentlessly annoying as our protagonists make one stupid call after another. It’s unfortunate as they’re likable for a time, but even at 80+ minutes the film’s downside runs too long.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Short film]
What is it? A man arrives in post World War I Berlin to find death, madness, and trouble with Nazis.
Why see it? Ingmar Bergman’s only Hollywood feature feels in no way like a Hollywood film. David Carradine is an unlikely lead, and the subject matter grows from dense to unclear as it becomes far simpler in its theme that it thinks. It’s ultimately an odd film,more interesting than appealing, and will most likely only be a must-see for serious fans of the director. Arrow’s new Blu-ray is well-produced and attractive, but it’s hard to see the film as more than a curiosity.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary by David Carradine, featurettes, interview]
Also out this week:
The Atomic Cafe, The Black Windmill, The Cabin, Christmas Blood, Operation Finale, Slay Belles, Snowflake, ‘Til Death Do Us Part, Viking Destiny