Some big names coming out this week and I’ll start with the biggest, Darkest Hour. The film is nominated for multiple Oscars with Gary Oldman the front-runner to bring home Best Actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill. I actually missed it at the theater and heard a lot of buzz about it so what did I think when I watched it on Blu-ray? I found it to be a mixed bag actually. Oldman is fantastic as is Lily James who plays Churchill’s secretary, but the film itself is so straight forward I felt like I was watching a documentary more than a film. It’s about Churchill taking over as Prime Minister of England during World War II and it shows his early days, dealing with the Germans, Dunkirk and headbutting with King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn). It’s a lot of talking and people questioning Churchill and more talking. Dunkirk was my favorite film of 2017 and there is no comparison of the two films. One is action oriented and intense, the other is a lot of talking with a good performance from Oldman. I guess if you don’t know much about history you might find it interesting, but I kept waiting for something to happen and ultimately got one fantastic speech at the end. I can see why it was nominated because it’s the type of film that gets nominated (great acting, production design, etc.), but I don’t know if I’d ever have the need to watch it again. Yet I know people who loved it so go figure.
Next is Hangman starring Al Pacino, Karl Urban and Brittany Snow. Somewhere in Hangman is a fantastic crime thriller like Seven, unfortunately it just doesn’t quite get there. Don’t get me wrong I liked the film and it’s a thousand times better than similar films like The Snowman, but you can just tell there is more potential there. Karl Urban is a criminal profiler who is being shadowed by a journalist (Brittany Snow) to do a story on police officers. Bodies are being found hanged and Urban gets Al Pacino out of retirement to join him in the investigation. Like Seven, there are clues and reasons for why these people are being killed. Unlike The Snowman, it makes a lot more sense. I can see this film getting an audience when it hits Netflix/streaming. Critics seemed to crush it, but I didn’t mind it. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a solid crime drama that I’d watch again. Pacino is pretty toned down for Pacino and Urban is always good. All the connections make enough sense and by the end there aren’t too many questions left unanswered. I hope it finds an audience and people give it a chance because it’s not as bad as they say.
Disney/Pixar’s Coco is out this week as well. I haven’t gotten my copy yet, but I did see it in theaters. It’s a critically acclaimed film nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, but I didn’t love it. I’m not a Pixar diehard like others and this follows the Pixar formula to a T. My biggest issue is that it reminded me of so many other films because of that formula. The Land of the Dead area reminded me exactly of Inside Out’s emotional world backdrop. I saw the dog as the sea lion (or seal, I don’t remember what it was) in Finding Dory. I saw the dog as the rooster in Disney’s Moana. It’s just another off beat animal character with weird eyes/facial expressions to make kids laugh. And that’s fine, kids will love it. It’s colorful and musical and has fun characters for kids. I’ll never understand the adults that go crazy over these movies, but I’m perfectly fine with kids watching them over and over again. I thought Miguel was a bit of a whine bag, but not nearly as bad as the girl in Inside Out. Like most Disney/Pixar films, the Blu-ray comes with a boat load of bonus features which I tend to like more than the actual movie. It made a ton of money at the box office so people clearly liked it. I wasn’t one of those people, but that’s fine. If your family liked it, it’s worth picking up. If you missed it, your kids will like it.
Rebecka Martinsson Series 1 is also out this week. The absolutely stunning Ida Engvoll plays Rebecka Martinsson, a lawyer in Stockholm who returns to her small hometown when an old friend is found dead. That storyline takes up the first two episodes. Martinsson sticks around and it continues with four more episodes with 3 & 4 having its own story that connects overall and episodes 5 & 6 have its own story that connects overall as well. With the help of a local cop (Anna), they investigate deaths revolving around a Nazi war plane and former World War II participants in the last 2 episodes and the death of a woman found in a cabin that leads to a family that owns a mining company in episodes 3 & 4. I quite liked the show. It’s well paced and smart. The location is fantastic and the writing is good as well. I’m not familiar with Engvoll at all, but she’s really good in the lead role. If you like female lead crime dramas, give this one a chance.
Second to last we have Copyright Criminals The Funky Drummer Edition. This documentary takes a look at whether or not sampling is legal and who should get paid for the work. DJs have used samples for decades and for a while, no one got paid. If you took a bass line from a song in the 1970s, you didn’t have to pay that original artist until the 1990s. You hear both sides of the argument and I agree with the side that says you need to pay for a sample no matter what you do with it. One of the artists said if you take something and change it, it’s yours. No dude, it’s not. I can’t paint a copy of the Mona Lisa, change the color of the backdrop and claim it’s mine. The documentary has a ton of musicians in it from George Clinton to Chuck D of Public Enemy. I’m firmly on the side of paying musicians for their work and actually got mad listening to some of these “DJs” talking about what they do with it to make it theirs. I put that in quotes because DJs today barely have to do anything compared to back in the day. Now everything is digital whereas the DJs from the 70s and 80s at least had to go out and find music at the store and scratch it out themselves. It’s an interesting take on what is music, who owns music and what you can do with it.
Finally we have Black Eagle, a Jean-Claude Van Damme film from 1988 that’s getting a special edition release. It stars Sho Kosugi as a CIA agent sent to Malta to retrieve a recently crashed US plane with new laser technology they don’t want getting into the wrong hands aka the Russians! JCVD plays a KGB tough guy in a very early role. It seems like his dialogue has been dubbed, but it also seems like a lot of other dialogue was dubbed as well. It’s way overly choreographed and the fight sequences are kind of a joke. I don’t remember the film from back in the day and it really doesn’t hold up. But, it’s also a nice trip down memory lane when action films were pretty bad with guys waiting to be kicked and Asians using martial arts all the time. Not great martial arts like we see today, but overly staged, super slow martial arts. The best part is, there’s a scene where JCVD’s stunt double does a stunt that is clearly not JCVD. And it’s just a scene where the character jumps into the water. The guy has thicker hair and a smaller build and is obviously not JCVD. But that’s why I also like these movies. They aren’t good, but they are highly entertaining. If you are a fan of the film, this new release is pretty fantastic. The film looks good and comes with a ton of bonus features. It also has a cool retro slipcover that looks like a VHS tape. As bad as the actual movie is, this release is highly recommended.