The biggest release of the week is the spy thriller Atomic Blonde starring Charlize Theron. The trailers made the film look like a balls to the walls action film, but it’s actually more John le Carré than John Wick. What that means is that it’s a layered thriller more than a headshot, headshot, stab in the throat action flick. Don’t get me wrong, there is some fantastic action (which Theron handles with ease), but it has a lot more of a story than I expected. Theron plays an MI6 agent sent to Berlin to recover a spy list through the help of James McAvoy. The film is set in Berlin during the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It’s an espionage film with double-crossing and people not being who you think they are. Think of it as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with some Jason Bourne action sequences. People will be talking about the long take action sequence in the hallway and that’s fine. What stands out to me though is the style of the film. It’s sexy which shouldn’t be surprising because Theron is gorgeous in the first place. Add in her wardrobe and boots and a certain scene with Sofia Boutella and yeah, the movie is pretty hot. Plus it has a killer soundtrack of 80s music since it’s based in the 1980’s. The film looks and sounds amazing on 4K. Songs by George Michael and ‘Til Tuesday have never sounded so good. I first saw it at the theater and was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t full of action, but rewatching it at home knowing what to expect, I think I liked it a lot more. I’m not sure if it will be in my top 10 for the year, but it’s a lot of fun, super sexy, filled with great music and stars the beautiful Charlize Theron. Nothing more to say than that.
Rake has become one of my favorite TV shows of the past few years with Cleaver Greene being my favorite character since Walter White. Series 4 starts where Series 3 ends, with Cleave dangling from a hot air balloon and Barney stuck inside the basket. Cleaver crashes into a building where one of the country’s most wanted happens to be. That starts the plot for the early part of the season. Midway through, the show loses one of its longest running characters to an accident. Some people want to believe it was murder and the second half of the season is about the court case around the accident/murder. Cleaver becomes a viral sensation when his sister is running for political office and by season’s end he finds himself in a new position of power. Richard Roxburgh is just perfect as the flawed hero and all the supporting characters serve their part. The show is funny and smart and reminds me of Better Call Saul, but a bit less serious. I genuinely look forward to watching the show and I’m bummed it’s going to be a long time until we get new episodes.
Next is the horror flick Amityville: The Awakening which stars Bella Thorne, Cameron Monaghan, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Mckenna Grace. This is a recent film that takes on the story of Amityville in current times. It’s been 40 years since the events at 112 Ocean Avenue and a new family moves into the legendary house. Jennifer Jason Leigh doesn’t tell her family about the stories surrounding the house, but her daughter Bella Thorne starts hearing what exactly happened in her new home. Her brother (Monaghan) was in an accident and is laid out in bed unable to speak or move. Once the house takes hold on the family, Thorne doesn’t believe Leigh, Monaghan can now communicate and their youngest sister (the super talented Mckenna Grace) starts having issues as well. It’s not a groundbreaking film, but it’s a lot better than some of the other movies that have used the Amityville name/story. It does get super META with Thorne and schoolmates watching previous Amityville movies so she can learn about the house’s history. Monaghan is super creepy and Thorne is fine enough in her role. It won’t wow you, but it’s an easy enough watch.
Sticking with horror, a George A. Romero – Between Night and Dawn box set comes out this week. This set features 3 Romero films made in between his zombie films Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Those films are: There’s Always Vanilla, Season of the Witch, and The Crazies. To me, The Crazies is the standout and worth the price alone. It was remade years back, but Romero’s film has much more intensity. In today’s world where we don’t trust the government or authority figures, watching soldiers going into people’s homes at will will surely rile viewers up. The film never quite explains what’s happening which also adds to the intensity. Just like with Stephen King’s The Mist, you don’t need to explain everything with great details. Just say something is happening and blame someone for it. The unknown is much more tense than everything being explained. I can admit I didn’t quite understand the other two films. Season of the Witch (also known as Hungry Wives) finds an everyday woman getting involved with the occult. She ends up in a group house with other people and I didn’t quite get it. At least I think she moved in with people. It’s visually cool, but didn’t make much sense to me. Same for There’s Always Vanilla. This finds a young man bouncing around from job to job after leaving the army. He moves back to Pittsburgh and meets up with an older woman who starts to support him. Romero himself called it his worst film and I can see why. But the box set is pretty impressive with great bonus features and the films look really good with their upgrade. The Crazies is definitely worth owning.
Another version of Murder on the Orient Express is out on DVD this week to coincide with the latest theatrical release. This is from 2010 and stars Jessica Chastain, Hugh Bonneville, Toby Jones, Barbara Hershey and David Suchet as the famed Hercule Poirot. I’ve seen the Kenneth Branagh theatrical release and the story is the same here, but the Poirot portrayals are different. Suchet’s Poirot in this seems very standoffish and not compassionate. The film aired on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! and what I don’t understand is how different Suchet’s Poirot feels. He played the character many times (which I’ll talk about in a minute), but this one he seems jaded and dark. The film itself is dark, but Poirot even more so. The cast is filled with big names, but this version fell off the rails (pun intended).
Sticking with Agatha Christie, The Best of Agatha Christie Volume 1 & 2 are out this week. The films in the collection are: And Then There Were None, Five Little Pigs, Death on the Nile, The Witness for the Prosecution, Three Act Tragedy and Hallowe’en Party. The standout to me is Five Little Pigs with a young Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger on Game of Thrones). Suchet plays Poirot in a story about a murder that took place 14 years earlier. A wife is sent to prison for the murder of her husband, but her daughter asks the famed Poirot to investigate the crime because she doesn’t believe her mother committed the crime. Suchet plays Poirot much differently here (and in other films in this collection) compared to his portrayal in Murder on the Orient Express. Gillen plays the murdered husband who was in love with a younger woman who may have been involved. Death on the Nile features Emily Blunt, And Then There Were None also features a Game of Thrones actor, Charles Dance, along with Sam Neill and Miranda Richardson. The Witness for the Prosecution is a non-Poirot story, but has Toby Jones investigating the murder of an heiress (Kim Cattrall). This might have the best end twist of the collection and you really don’t know who was involved or why till the very end. Three Act Tragedy sees Poirot investigating deaths at a dinner party and Hallowe’en Party finds Poirot investigating a murder of a young child at a costume party. I much prefer Suchet’s performances in these films over the previously reviewed one.
Next is J.D.’s Revenge, a 1970s Blaxploitation film. I gotta say, I had a ton of fun with this one. If you aren’t familiar with the genre then this isn’t for you. But if you are a fan, this one is pretty entertaining. Glynn Turman gives a great performance as a shy law student who gets hypnotized and ends up with the soul of an old gangster trapped inside him. J.D. Walker was a gangster in the 1940s who was killed after he was believed to have murdered his girlfriend. J.D. wants to settle a score and used the law student’s body to right the wrong. It’s full of jive turkeys, hoe slappin’, pimp suits and more. Lou Gossett Jr. also stars. The film looks great on Blu-ray and fans should eat this one up. A lot of fun.
Zoology is a Russian film and man is it odd. I thought it was going to be a horror or sci-fi thriller, but it’s just odd. An older zoo worker starts growing a tail after tainted food is served to the zoo animals. She tries to hide it, but soon falls in love with the X-ray technician who knows her secret. She is bullied at work and her mother is a super religious woman. I kept expecting something more to happen, maybe like Species or something where the animals attack or she starts killing people. Nothing like that happens. It’s almost a love story. The lead actress gives a good performance, but it’s such a bizarre film that I don’t know if I liked it or not. Check it out and let me know what you think.
The History Channel’s Hamilton: Building America is out this week. This documentary isn’t about the hit musical, but about the man who inspired that musical. Hamilton seems to be one of the most forgotten founding fathers yet had a huge impact on our country. From helping to create our 2 party government to Wall St. and the US Mint, Hamilton was involved in many things we take for granted. I tend to enjoy History’s takes on things and I found this entertaining and educational. It’s a quick watch at 84 minutes, but it’s pretty packed with history and facts you might not know about. If you like History programming, I definitely recommend this one.
The Sissi Collection is out this week. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what this was when it came my way. The films started in the 1950s and starred Romy Schneider as Princess Elisabeth (Sissi) of Austria. They are family friendly films and seemed to be hits back then. I can see why. They aren’t cheesy as The Princess Diaries, but that’s probably the most recent series to compare it to. Schneider played Sissi three times, in the first film Sissi, then Sissi: The Young Empress and Sissi; The Fateful Years of the Empress. This collection also comes with Forever My Love, an English-dubbed version of the three films mushed together. It also has Victoria to Dover where Schneider plays Princess Victoria. Even though these aren’t exactly my kind of films, this box set is pretty darn impressive. The films look spectacular with a 2K restoration. Schneider was also impressive especially at that age. She had grace and really shined in these roles. I’m considering seeing other work she might have done after these films.
Last is Gun Shy. This came out last week but I didn’t get it until Friday after it was released. This stars Antonio Banderas as an aging British rocker who goes to Chile with his wife (Olga Kurylenko) who ends up getting kidnapped. Looking at the cover art, it looks like an action movie ala Desperado. It is not. It’s more a comedy than anything else. Banderas’s rocker is very stereotypical and the pirates that kidnap his wife are first time pirates. I honestly don’t remember seeing Banderas even holding a gun in the movie never mind walking in front of an explosion. Mark Valley plays an US agent who doesn’t want Banderas to pay the pirates because the US doesn’t want terrorists getting money. The movie is kind of a mess. It’s from the director of Con Air, The Expendables 2, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and The Mechanic, yet its action is weak as is the comedy. Banderas is good in the role but overall if you miss this one, you aren’t missing much.