Review Round-up is usually films/TV shows that I review later than their release whether it’s because I didn’t receive them in time or releases changed. This time it’s a mix of this week’s new releases with titles already out. I’ll start with the new releases and first is Jack Irish: Season 2. I liked the first series with Guy Pearce playing Jack Irish, a former criminal attorney who seems to find himself involved with cases no matter what. Season 2 sees Jack dealing with foreign college students winding up dead and his girlfriend Linda (Aussie TV staple Marta Dusseldorp) leaving him. Dusseldorp does make appearances in this season as her journalistic abilities are needed by Jack to help learn the truth behind the university and the deaths. Another Aussie TV staple (Danielle Cormack) appears this season as a sort of love interest and someone with ties to a company involved with the deaths. Pearce is one of my favorite actors and Dusseldorp and Cormack more than hold their own. If you watch shows like Rake, Wentworth and A Place to Call Home you’ll see other familiar faces in this as well. It’s an easy binge with 6 episodes on 2 discs. If you liked Season 1, you’ll like this.
Next is Picnic at Hanging Rock which I’m not sure if I understood. Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer stars as a school’s headmistress in 1900 Australia. Three of her students and a teacher go missing while on a picnic at Hanging Rock on Valentine’s Day and Dormer’s past might have come back to haunt her. Or that was a red herring and the girls made a pact to kill themselves. But one is found with no recollection of the missing days. Time also seems to stop around Hanging Rock and others seemed to fall asleep so maybe it was something paranormal? I honestly don’t really know. It’s based on a true story so I guess no one really knows. I’m not sure how old Dormer’s character is supposed to be. She was with an older man in England who she thought was dead and creates a new name and persona before she creates the school. The girls seemed to be lesbians so maybe they killed themselves because they wouldn’t be accepted in 1900, I have no idea.
Third we have Elizabeth I & Her Enemies which is a documentary mixed with re-enactments. Lily Cole plays Elizabeth I with Dan Jones and Suzannah Lipscomb giving historical facts and stories. I’m not really sure if I liked the style of it, but it is educational. If you wanted to learn more about Elizabeth I, her parents King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, her mother’s death, her fight for the crown and dealing with Mary, Queen of the Scots, this is for you. I don’t know if it’s something I’d watch again but if you like British history then you’d enjoy it.
2001’s Gosford Park gets a Blu-ray release this week with a 2K restoration and a ton of bonus features like commentary by director Robert Altman, commentary by writer-producer Julian Fellowes and much more. I thought I had seen the movie before, turns out I hadn’t. It’s littered with elite names like Charles Dance, Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, Maggie Smith, Emily Watson, Kelly Macdonald, Kristin Scott Thomas and more. Despite being a British period piece it’s very Altman-esque. It has his camera movement with lots of people talking and tracking shots. It’s very Agatha Christie in its mystery, but it’s also very slow. It takes well beyond an hour for the murder to happen and by then I don’t know if I was still invested in it. It’s not bad, but it was nominated for Oscars and was way too slow for my liking. I liked Macdonald but of course it was older actresses that got all the love. It’s THE definition of what an early 2000s Oscar contender was. But if you are a fan, this is the version to own.
Next is Agony a drama out of Germany. A woman is brutally murdered and the film lays out two scenarios of who the killer could be. It sort of goes backwards giving the audience the information about the woman’s death then showing the stories of the two men leading up to the murder. To me the film really wants you to think it’s one person and I kinda expected the other right away. The film has style and it moves pretty fast but I don’t think it’s something I’d have to watch again. I can see the director getting more work but I thought the characters were a bit cliched. There’s the wannabe rapper and glasses wearing student type. Others around them are cliched too. But it’s worth a one time watch at least and the murder itself is pretty brutal even if he left his fingerprints on everything.
Next is Outrage Coda starring, written and directed by Beat Takashi (Takeshi Kitano). He plays Otomo a hired gun who goes to South Korea to serve Mr. Chang. It’s the third film in the Outrage franchise (Outrage, Beyond Outrage) and now I’ve seen all three films. Beat Takashi is a master of these Yakuza films and this is full of violence, double-crossing and war. I didn’t even know there was a third film in the franchise so this was a nice surprise. This is the type of film Hollywood is afraid to make nowadays. It’s uber violent with headshots and beatings. There is nudity and prostitutes and mobsters. I dug it. I’ve watched a lot of Takashi films and if you enjoy Asian crime dramas like I do, then this will be right up your alley as well. Definitely recommended if you are familiar with the Outrage films.
The following films have been out already but I got them after their release date. First is Forever My Love with Romy Schneider as Sissi. I had never heard of the Sissi films till a previous collection came my way. Now they aren’t necessarily my type of thing, but I respect what they are and who they are for. This release is the US dubbed versions condensed into one 145 minute release. So if you want to watch Sissi, Sissi: The Young Empress and Sissi: The Fateful Years of the Empress in just under 2 and a half hours well this is for you. Romy Schneider is simply stunning and she was lost way too young (in her 40s). I had seen the Sissi films about a year or so ago and compared them to The Princess Diaries and that kinda makes sense. Again this is the condensed English dubbed versions.
The Marine 6: Close Quarters came out a couple of weeks ago but I didn’t get it until a few days ago. I remember seeing the first film with John Cena but I don’t know if I’ve seen any of the sequels. You really don’t need to see any of them to watch this, but it might help to know Mike “The Miz” Mizanin’s character. He’s joined be the legendary Shawn Michaels in this. They join forces to rescue a kidnapped girl from a gang of international criminals when they find her in an abandoned building. There is some decent action, but overall it’s kinda laughable. There is post-production muzzle flash, overly choreographed fighting and really bad dialogue. I was shocked by one death in it, but overall it’s pretty cheesy. Becky Lynch is wooden and The Miz will never be mistaken for Cena or The Rock. It’s a lot more cheesy and plain than the first film which at least attempted to be a decent action flick. But if you’ve seen these films (especially The Miz ones), round out the franchise with number 6.
This next film I’m not 100% sure if it’s out already or not until next week. The paperwork that came with Skate Kitchen says November 20th, but the press release email says December 4th. Either way it didn’t work for me. It’s about a skateboarding 18 year old girl from Long Island hanging out with girls in New York, posting things on Instagram and being punk skater chicks. I loathe coming of age films and this isn’t for me. Others seemed to love it but it’s a giant stereotype of cliched “tough” skater girls rebelling and smoking weed and having sex. Wow how original. She leaves her suburban life for the inner city and the others sleep around with girls and boys and smoke weed. Jaden Smith as a tough city skater boy is laughable as well. The lead actress is good, but there isn’t a character I cared about. There’s the lesbian wearing flannel and talking about getting fingered and wanting to fight boys. All the other girls make fun of the lead for being from the suburbs and hanging with the boys at one point. Not for me, but you might like it.
Last we have some Mill Creek products that came out in October and November. Somehow Can’t Hardly Wait is 20 years old and this Blu-ray is a 20 Year Reunion edition. I actually think it’s an underrated flick from the 1990’s. I like it more than She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You and the cast is just as big with Jennifer Love Hewitt, Seth Green, Ethan Embry, Peter Facinelli and more. I hadn’t seen it in years and I gotta say it still holds up pretty well. Sure the clothing is pretty horrendous, but the clothing from the 1990s is the only bad part about the decade. Every type of person in high school in that time period is represented here. Hewitt was the hot girl every guy wanted. Embry was the guy who was going to tell his feelings. Green was the wannabe. Lauren Ambrose was the girl who kinda hated everyone. You have the jocks, nerds, bullies and more all at this one last rager. It has a fantastic soundtrack which sounds great on Blu-ray and the film looks good in HD. If you don’t own it and remember liking it, it’s still fun and this new release is worth picking up.
And the Award Goes To…80 Years of the Academy Awards is a pretty solid look at the first 80 years of the Oscars. I grew up watching the Oscars but I’ll be honest and admit I just don’t care at this point. It’s just a pretentious get together to give away awards to Oscar bait movies with people giving speeches not about movies, but this shows it wasn’t always that way. The first disc in this 3 disc collection is about the early years, the years involving World Wars and post Wars. Disc 2 is where the awards found their groove to me. Disc 3 starts in the 1970s (probably the best decade of films) and goes up until the early 2000s. It’s great if you want to learn some film history or remind yourself of what movies won Oscars. Obviously being about the Oscars it features Hollywood’s biggest stars as well.
Last for Mill Creek we have Benji: Off the Leash. If you read me enough you know these just aren’t my kind of films, but that’s fine. I have no beef with family friendly films that are wholesome and entertaining for kids and their parents. I don’t have kids so they don’t do much for me. I’m also not a big animal person so movies about dogs aren’t exactly my thing either, but again, that’s ok. But if you like these films, you’ll love this. Benji has to help save his mom! This film is probably the most dramatic of the ones I’ve seen recently and deals with animal abuse, puppy mills and what not. I definitely wasn’t expecting that. There is a messed up family in this so it might not be for super young kids as well. But if you’ve watched the other Benji releases then this is for you.
And I’ll end it all with another Robert Altman film, The Gingerbread Man. Another film I thought I had seen but hadn’t and another filled with big time names. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Kenneth Branagh, Daryl Hannah, Tom Berenger, Robert Duvall and Embeth Davidtz, the movie is based on a John Grisham story. With a legendary director, a cast of award worthy actors and a story from a best-selling author it should be a home run right? Wrong. It’s surprisingly dull. Branagh plays an attorney who gets involved with a client. She believes her father (Duvall) is stalking her and Branagh gets too close. There is a big twist at the end (like most Grisham stories), but by then I didn’t really care. Unlike Gosford Park, this is very un-Altman-esque. I didn’t see any of his style or camera movement. I don’t remember one tracking shot either. I’m really surprised how little I enjoyed this because there’s much too much talent involved to be this disappointing. It’s definitely a Grisham story with lawyers and being based in the South, but Branagh didn’t seem to fit the role. RDJ is sort of a drunk so for that time period (late 1990’s) that’s accurate. Clearly not one of Altman’s classics.