Sorry, I don’t have any free movies to give away this week. However, we still have a lot of notable new Blu-rays to talk about. Let’s do that.
‘John Wick‘ – Bad guys kill a man’s dog. Man kills bad guys. All of them. Violently. Keanu Reeves strips the revenge thriller genre down to its barest elements in a high-octane action flick that got great reviews and word-of-mouth, but little box office. (The studio couldn’t figure out how to market it. The boring title probably didn’t help.) The Blu-ray sports a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which in itself gets my attention. I just wish the movie didn’t have to look so damn teal.
‘Dracula Untold‘ – This one probably should have been left untold, amirite? Har har… That title is just begging to be made fun of. Universal attempts to emulate the Marvel formula by rebooting all of its classic monsters in a shared cinematic universe. Although that concept probably could be made to work, the first entry makes the mistake of reimagining Dracula as a misunderstood antihero, which seems like a really inane idea. The movie looks like a lame CGI-fest and bombed pretty badly. That probably doesn’t bode too well for the studio’s grand enterprise.
‘Ouija‘ – Do you remember when Hasbro made a big-budget movie out of ‘Battleship’? At the time, the company planned to do the same for a number of its other classic board game properties, including ‘Monopoly’ and ‘Candyland’. The failure of the ‘Battleship’ movie put a pin in those plans, but somehow a tepid horror flick based on the stupid spirit board slipped out anyway. With a low budget and a teen-friendly PG-13 rating, the movie did some decent business. A sequel appears inevitable.
‘The ABCs of Death 2‘ – Couldn’t they have called it ‘The 1-2-3s of Death’ or something? These horror anthology compilations seem to be all the rage these days, but the gimmick of squeezing 26 separate short films into a two-hour runtime doesn’t leave any of the entries much room to breathe.
‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby‘ – First time director Ned Benson’s ambitious relationship drama was originally filmed in two feature-length parts, one (called ‘Him’) which tells the story from the man’s perspective and the other (‘Her’) from the woman’s. After they premiered to some acclaim at the Toronto Film Festival, the Weinstein Company acquired the project (red flag!) and forced the director to consolidate the whole story into one condensed movie (‘Them’). This version was not nearly as well received. The Blu-ray case lists a 123-minute runtime, but also claims to include ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ as Special Features. Are these all compressed onto one disc? Are the individual chapters relegated to standard definition? These are questions I’d like answered. Honestly, this feels like something the Criterion Collection could do a bang-up job with, but I just don’t trust the Weinsteins to handle it correctly.
‘Dear White People‘ – The debut feature from promising young filmmaker Justin Simien has been widely compared to early Spike Lee – specifically to Lee’s college comedy ‘School Daze’. The satire explores race relations at an Ivy League university, and the way young white America routinely appropriates black culture as its own.
‘The Overnighters‘ – This acclaimed documentary tells the story of a pastor who raises the ire of his small North Dakota town when he chooses to help poverty-stricken migrant workers drawn there by the burgeoning oil boom.
‘The Best of Me‘ – Nicholas Sparks. Blecch.
‘The Aviators‘ – Does this do for ‘The Aviator’ what ‘Aliens’ did for ‘Alien’? Oh, it’s some animated thing with Jeff Foxworthy voicing a mouse who builds airplanes for pigeons who want to fight in World War I? Never mind. “Based on a True Story”? WTF? Seriously, W… T… F… ?!
In its effort to trickle out titles from the Studio Ghibli catalog as slowly and frustratingly as possible, Disney offers the trio of ‘Porco Rosso‘, ‘Pom Poko‘ and ‘Tales from Earthsea‘. Yet still no sign of the much-desired ‘Spirited Away’. I’d be excited for ‘Porco Rosso’, which is one of my favorite Hayao Miyazaki films, except that Disney always seems to screw up its Ghibli releases with bad subtitles, lossy audio, or other lazy issues.
As I recall, Jason Scott Lee (no relation) makes a pretty good Bruce Lee in ‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story‘, but the movie itself is a ridiculously glamorized and superficial bio-pic with the silly conceit of restaging many of the kung-fu star’s most famous fight scenes as if they were real events that happened in his life. From the director of such later masterworks as ‘Stealth’, ‘Alex Cross’ and the current dud ‘The Boy Next Door’.
In ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding‘, the worst of all her many rom-coms, Julia Roberts plays a hateful sociopath who schemes to sabotage the nuptials of her old college friend because she’s decided that he belongs with her instead. The movie’s regressively sexist treatment of all its female characters, who are expected to get married and give up their dreams and ambitions lest they wait too long and no man will have them, is nothing short of reprehensible. This isn’t just a bad movie. It’s an evil movie. Oh, but wait, it has that scene where everybody sings “Say a Little Prayer” at the dinner table. “Forever, forever, you’ll stay in my heart, and I will love you…” I guess all is forgiven, then. That part is high-larious.
Could you imagine Mickey Rourke, Paul Reiser, Tim Daly, Steve Guttenberg, Kevin Bacon and Daniel Stern all meeting in a restaurant today to bullshit about their personal lives? I’d give it about three minutes before Rourke puts one fist through Guttenberg’s face while strangling Reiser with the other hand. The premise was a lot more plausible when they were all in their early twenties and made ‘Diner‘, Barry Levinson’s male-bonding classic.
All of Alexander Payne’s movies are divisive, but ‘About Schmidt‘ is one that really seems to drive people crazy. Either it’s a heartwarming and emotional tale of a man in the late stages of his life, or a contemptuously condescending parody of Middle America. The Kathy Bates topless scene probably didn’t help matters.
Director Vincente Minnelli took great pains to emulate the color palette of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings in the 1956 bio-pic ‘Lust for Life‘, but most prints of the movie have faded badly over the years and lost the original luminous quality. I’m curious how much effort Warner Bros. has put into restoring the film for what appears to be a bargain Blu-ray release. Kirk Douglas seems an unlikely choice to play the artist, but gave the role his all and was reportedly crushed that he didn’t win an Oscar for it. (He lost to Yul Brynner for ‘The King and I’.)
Once considered a great filmmaking master, Jean-Luc Godard lost any interest in narrative storytelling or anything approaching coherency in his movies after about the mid-1960s, and consequently fell out of favor with even the most dedicated and tolerant of cinephiles. The Criterion Collection would like to make a case for re-evaluating some of his later work, including the 1980 ‘Every Man for Himself‘.
Finally, Warner (via its New Line label) dribbles Gina Prince-Bythewood’s romantic sports drama ‘Love & Basketball‘ onto the Blu-ray court this week.
I’m down with ‘John Wick’, and have some interest in ‘Eleanor Rigby’. Pending confirmation on how bad its subtitles are, ‘Porco Rosso’ will go on my wish list. ‘Diner’ is also on my radar.
What gets your attention this week?