This week, we start off 2016 with a really high quality slate of releases are coming to Blu-Ray/DVD, and that is real music to my ears. Honestly folks, it’s one of the very best groups in a long time, which is no small praise, and also a hell of a way to begin the new year. There’s no shortage of quality titles available to own today, that’s for sure, making for some tough choices. My top pick this time around could have gone in a couple of different directions, and that’s not a normal occurrence. Ultimately, my PICK OF THE WEEK is one of my favorite romantic comedies in a while, though a tough challenge was put forward by an Oscar hopeful thriller. I’ll get to all of those soon enough, but for now…it’s time for Vintage picks!
In honor of this week’s release/technically an expansion of The Revenant (which, again, I like but don’t love), I wanted to cite a film that I know gets compared to this one a lot. It’s The Grey, and while they really aren’t similar, I do happen to prefer this older one, so it’s an excuse to give it another thumbs up. From my review at the time (found here), I wrote: “Incredibly bleak but undeniably powerful, ‘The Grey’ is a tough picture to sit through, but a rewarding one, especially in terms of Liam Neeson’s terrific lead performance. There was talk a few months ago of giving the film a quick qualifying run in December to have Neeson eligible for Oscar consideration (and the plan now is to re-release the movie in October to remind voters of his performance), and while it was too crowded a year for him, this time around…who knows? Neeson does some excellent work here, giving you a character hanging on to life by a thread. Without his acting, this might have been too bleak a film to sit through, though plenty of credit goes to Joe Carnahan for making as consistently dark a movie as this one palatable in a way. The flick is exciting but methodical, the characters are well fleshed out, and the philosophical agenda is somehow a perfect companion to the battle for survival in the snow. This has a lot in common with the work of Ernest Hemingway, and considering that the previews make this out to be the movie where Liam Neeson punches wolves, that’s some high praise.” That all remains true, and in advance of Leonardo DiCaprio being mauled by a bear (and not being raped), definitely revisit Liam Neeson fighting mother nature…and wolves.
The fairly large assortment of other quality titles I’m going to discuss here today aren’t quite in the same league as my top pick (though in one case it’s very close), but that’s nothing at all to be ashamed about, especially this time around with such a strong slate. Behold:
I went in to this one with absolutely no expectations, resulting in a really nice little experience. In my review (found right here), I wrote: “It’s great to see Mickey Rourke getting a complex role again. He’s an actor that thrives with the right material, and he has it here. Combine that with up and coming star Nat Wolff being given a strong vehicle to work with and Ashby is something really nice. It’s a throwback film of sorts, one that gives ample time to conversation and developing relationships between characters. Especially given the plot, that’s not something that you could immediately count on being the case nowadays. By and large, writer/director Tom McNamara is able to execute what is essentially a high concept coming of age story, something that would have been right at home in the 1980’s. There are missteps, to be sure, but Rourke and Wolff are never among them. Ashby has small ambitions, which can be problematic if the film is not up to snuff, but this one certainly is. A movie with a big heart, there’s plenty to enjoy here. Witty, unusual, and well acted, the good far outweighs the bad with this flick.” This was more or less ignored in theaters, so now it’s in a perfect position to get a second life. Fingers crossed that it does, and as an added help, here is my interview with Wolff. Enjoy!
Special Features: N/A
Total Box Office: $4,631
Major Awards: None yet, and don’t hold your breath for any last minute ones, sadly
The Green Inferno
Eli Roth is not a filmmaker for everybody, that’s for sure, but if you’re a gore hound, he kind of outdoes himself here with a brutally violent cannibal tale. My review at the time (here) began as such: “Without question, Eli Roth is a far more talented filmmaker than many realize or give him credit for, partially due to his affinity for gory horror outings. He shows a new side of himself in the upcoming thriller Knock Knock (more on that one soon), but here with the cannibal tale The Green Inferno, he’s very much in his comfort zone. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make this strictly a horror movie for gorehounds only. Even someone relatively jaded like myself was grossed out on occasion, which again is basically a compliment. Roth knows how to play his audience like a fiddle, both before and after the violence begins. Much like he’s done in previous features, he begins very casually, introducing you to characters in a non horror environment, before luring them essentially into a trap. They never know they’re in a fright flick, which helps audience members to care for them and mourn the ones who don’t make it. Things become a little redundant in the third act, but much of the film is deeply disturbing and intense. The Green Inferno is Roth’s first outing behind the camera in a solid while, and while he’s not for everyone, those who like his particular take on the genre will have something to gleefully watch through covered eyes.” Between this and Knock Knock, I think it’s safe to say that Roth is back and is one of our more interesting genre filmmakers out there…
Special Features: Audio Commentary
Total Box Office: $7,192,291
Major Awards: None yet
After how good Prisoners was, it was perhaps a stretch to assume that director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins could have lightning strike twice. And yet, here we are, with a great thriller that’s deep in the awards race. From my review at the time (which you can see here), I wrote: “There’s an almost indescribable tension coursing through the veins of Sicario from start to finish. Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve continues to prove that he’s one of the better up and coming directors out there with this action drama/thriller, which is gripping from start to finish. Villeneuve manages to craft something just as bleak and dark as Prisoners, though this one might be slightly more mainstream, considering the subject matter is slightly less upsetting. Villeneuve is again working with cinematographer Roger Deakins, who turns in some of his most exciting visuals ever, utilizing modern technology in a number of interesting ways. Armed with a trio of strong performances from Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio Del Toro, this is a film that challenges in all the right ways.” It holds up on multiple viewings, I can attest to that. As a bonus, if you haven’t read my interview with Deakins, you can find that here and hopefully enjoy.
Special Features: Featurettes
Total Box Office: $46,823,967 (and counting)
Major Awards: None yet, but it’s shown up at various precursors and is a likely nominee for Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards
Yes, it starts slow, but man, once the film gets to the World Trade Center, it becomes something special. As I wrote right here in my review: “There’s three very different sections to Robert Zemeckis‘ new film The Walk. One part is fairly underwhelming, one part is fun yet slight, while one part is positively astounding. That makes for a definite mixed bag, but while the movie takes a while to find its footing (no pun intended), when it settles into being a New York love letter, things get pretty good. It’s almost as if Zemeckis felt obligated to spend time with legendary wire walker Philippe Petit in France for a preordained period before getting down to the Manhattan centric events which really seem to have captured his imagination. Zemeckis’s talents for spectacle and visual splendor shortchange lead actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt a bit, but JGL still gets to deliver a strong performance that stands apart from the wonder of special effects. Is this an Academy Award player? Probably not, unless you’re talking about the technical categories, but stranger things have happened. The final half hour or so of the flick is so breathtaking, that alone makes it worth seeing, so that’s a plus for The Walk. I wasn’t expecting the unevenness of the first third/first half, but once we’re spending time at the World Trade Center, I also wasn’t expecting the power of it all. The Twin Towers get a touching tribute in The Walk, which is well worth seeing. Take it from someone who has a fear of heights…your palms will get sweaty.” This didn’t really get seen in IMAX nearly as much as it should have, but on Blu-Ray, hopefully it’ll hold up…
Special Features: Deleted Scenes, and more
Total Box Office: $10,137,502 (and counting)
Major Awards: None yet, but it may well be nominated at the Oscars in the Best Visual Effects field
Other Films Being Released
Here now is just a simple little list of what else is hitting shelves on this particular day, sans my personal recommendation. Behold:
Here’s a quandary. As much as I like Kate Mara and David Oyelowo, I’ve heard this thriller is incredibly preachy when it comes to religion. That turns me off in a big way, but I remain curious, I have to say. I haven’t seen it yet, but I might at some point, so if you’re in the same boat, perhaps we’ll do this together?
Box Office: $2,583,301
Hell and Back
This raunchy animated flick is one that I’ve been interested in popping in for a while now. It’s likely getting a view from me this week, and while I doubt it’s challenging the likes of Anomalisa or Inside Out, it might turn out to be a surprise. If it does, you’ll see me push for its inclusion when we do our staff awards. If not…this is probably the last you’ll hear of it.
Box Office: $157,768
Infinitely Polar Bear
One of my bigger indie blindspots this year, I haven’t been able to watch this in its entirety yet. If I had, I suspect I would have had another recommendation to put forward today. Alas, it’s not to be. I know some of you are big fans of this one though, so definitely pick it up and enjoy. I’ll be correcting my error in the coming days, I can assure you of that much…
Box Office: $1,430,655
Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser
This sequel nobody asked for is going straight to video, but I’m including it just in case there’s any fans of the original out there who read the site. There now, it’s out of the way. I hope you appreciated that, if you’re one of the lonely Joe Dirt fans out there in movie land.
Box Office: N/A
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse
I’m not sure if anyone particularly enjoyed this horror comedy, but it’s a sub genre that I tend to dig, so it’s on my imminent to-see list as well. It doesn’t seem like anything to really write home about, but all the same, it’s certainly worth a look. Feel free to join me if you’re of a similar mindset…or, you know…don’t. The choice is yours.
Box Office: $3,703,046
Those of you who frequent this website know that this was a mild obsession of mine, especially since it spent about a half decade in limbo. Then…I saw it. From my review (here), which starts: “For those of you who have been following The Awards Circuit for many years now (probably even going back to the days of The Oscar Igloo), this title might be familiar to you. Yes, for a number of years, starting around 2009 or 2010, I’d predict John Cusack to get his first Oscar nomination for Shanghai. Then, it just didn’t come out. Finally though, after about a half decade on the shelf, it’s hitting theaters. Alas, it was not worth the wait. A murder mystery that desperately wants to be a prestige laden period piece, Shanghai is frankly more or less a bore. It’s a shame too, as the talent involved in this film is considerable. There’s an admirable amount of ambition here on the part of director Mikael Håfström and writer Hossein Amini, but it just never is properly translated on to the screen. Had it worked, this would have been an old fashioned spy flick set during wartime, and those are often deeply satisfying. The movie plods along, thinking that it’s far more interesting than it is, while Cusack and company do their best to make the plot developments feel meaningful. It’s a losing battle though, so while Cusack is game to try and save this film, it’s an effort that’s doomed to failure. I’m glad I finally got to see Shanghai, but I regretfully must inform you that there was good reason not to be in any hurry to release it in theaters…” Yup, that pretty much sums it up. If you’re curious, give it a look, but keep your expectations low.
Box Office: $46,425
More than a few of my colleagues found this to be filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan’s comeback movie. I did not, however, as it was pretty mediocre to me. My review (which is right here) began like this: “Let me start things off by saying this…The Visit is the best thing that filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan has done in a long time. Sadly though, that’s not nearly the compliment that you’d assume it to be. Though not an outright terrible film like his last few, it’s still mostly a misfire and nowhere near the level he once was able to work on. A found footage horror comedy that’s all over the place, it’s perhaps just another nail in this filmmaker’s cinematic coffin. Shyamalan’s writing and directing has fallen off a cliff, going from someone who seemed like he could become one of the greats to a near amateur at times. In some ways, The Visit is a step in the right direction, with a lower budget and a smaller ambition, but his execution still leaves a lot to be desired. Those dreaming of him doing something on the level of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, or Signs can just dream on, with this not even being up there with The Village. It’s better than his out and out failures like Lady in the Water, The Happening, The Last Airbender, and After Earth, but is that really saying much? If this is the best Shyamalan has in him now, it’s fair to stop assuming there’s going to be this return to form. He’ll always be a curiosity, but The Visit is proof that he’s no longer a storyteller worth paying too much attention to. It’s a shame that he’s fallen this far, but that’s just where we are now. Generic PG-13 found footage thrillers should be below him, but he winds up not even being up to this task in a satisfactory manner. Alas.” Is it better than much of what Shyamalan has done of late? Yes. Is that good enough? No. That’s just the way it is here…
Box Office: $65,206,105
Broad City: Season Two
Flesh & Bone: Season One
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 10
The Last Kingdom
Legend: The Complete Series
Luther: Series 4
Party of Five: The Complete Series
True Detective: The Complete Second Season *(Joey’s Pick)*
PICK OF THE WEEK
Sleeping with Other People
Few things bugged me more cinematically in 2015 than how much the ball was dropped in releasing this amazing romantic comedy, raunchy as it might have been. It deserved to be a hit, not barely given a chance. Alas, it’s still excellent, as I said here in my rave review: “Like a breath of fresh air, filmmaker Lesyle Headland‘s sophomore feature Sleeping with Other People gave the Tribeca Film Festival a completely unique romantic sex comedy back this past spring, and now seeks to do the same here in the fall. Too often, only one or two of those descriptors are utilized, but Headland is prepared to give you all three in equal measure, with some effective and unexpected drama thrown in for good measure. Her debut film behind the camera, Bachelorette, showed some of these skills, but this movie establishes her as one of the most excited voices in the genre. She gives both Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis easily their best screen roles to date, challenging them with comedy and drama that goes to uncomfortable yet hilarious places. It’s hard to make a film that deals frankly with sex and still goes for the funny bone or pulls at your heartstrings, but Sleeping with Other People is that rare success. It’s the best thing that I saw at Tribeca and is one of my ten favorite films of the year so far, beyond being one of the very best rom coms of 2015. There’s something surprisingly hard about making this sort of movie feel “real”, and Headland more than capably succeeds. Armed with Brie and Sudeikis going all in for what’s more than just your garden variety rom com performance, she creates something very special indeed. Sleeping with Other People is a real winner…” It’s so good, it’s even making me think I need to keep it in my Top Ten for 2015. To further entice you to check this one out, you can find my interviews with writer/director Lesyle Headland here and star Alison Brie here…seek this one out. Trust me when I say that you won’t regret it…
Special Features: N/A
Total Box Office: $814,775
Major Award: None, sadly
–What will you be watching this week? Discuss in the comments!