Up first this week is Hostile Territory. I grew up watching westerns and expect certain things from the genre like long, wide shots, shoot-outs, good guys and bad guys, etc. This has a lot of them and introduced me to something I had never heard of, the Orphan Train. The synopsis sums up the movie perfectly: Upon returning home after the Civil War, former POW Jack Calgrove finds out his wife has died and his children—now presumed orphans—were loaded on a train bound for hostile territory deep in the American West. With the help of a fellow Union soldier, a troop of elite Native American sharpshooters, and a former slave searching desperately for her own daughter, Calgrove races to intercept the orphan train before all hope is lost. The story was interesting, but the film itself might not wow too many people. I’m not sure if I’m familiar with anyone in the cast and I don’t think it’s a movie I’d see myself watching again. There is nothing overly wrong with it, it’s just sort of a generic Western minus an interesting story. I think a different cast might have made it better although it’s hard to say because I don’t think any of them were actually that bad. They just weren’t great I guess. A western can be great and one of my favorite genres so when one is just average I guess I’m more critical of it. But at least I learned something so I can respect that.
Second we have Caged Birds, based on a true story about a man who could escape any prison and a lawyer out to help change Switzerland’s prison system in the 1980s. It’s another release where the story is more interesting than the film itself. I was not familiar with the “The Jailbreak King” Walter Stürm or his lawyer, Barbara “Babs” Hug, but their story was unique. He broke out of multiple jails while she wanted to use him to reform prisons and their treatment of prisoners. He wasn’t really into the social change side of things, he just liked the adventure. She was all about social change while dealing with a medical issue of her own, needing a kidney transplant. I’m not sure if I’ve seen anyone in the cast before, but they were all pretty decent. Not knowing a thing about any of it I can’t tell you how historically accurate it is, but it is good for at least one watch and learning something new.
Fear is a dark comedy out of Bulgaria that looks at racism in a small Bulgarian town. A widow takes in an African refugee trying to get to Germany. The local town folk are taken back by the man who happens to be a doctor. They only see him as a Negro who will do harm like the other refugees that come to town. It’s satirical using stereotypes to send a message. The town folk are all what you expect instantly reacting negatively to him and throwing bricks through her window and looking down on her. They question her about what her dead husband would think all while never getting to know the African as a person. There are a couple of genuinely funny parts to it and others will certainly find it timely. Another film with a cast I’m not familiar with, but the two leads are quite good as is the supporting cast. It was Bulgaria’s Official Oscar Submission and I can kind of see why. Very well made and smart and doesn’t beat you over your head with its message.
Vive L’Amour gets a 2K restoration on its first North American Blu-ray release. The film follows three characters unknowingly sharing a supposedly empty Taipei apartment. There is the female real estate agent, the man who sells funeral urns, and the man who sells clothing on the street that the real estate agent hooks up with. The two men eventually find out each is living there while the real estate agent doesn’t put it all together. It’s not a bad flick and I can see why it’s highly regarded. I had never seen it before and it came out in the early/mid 1990s. The restoration looks solid and the cast is good as well. It probably has tons of fans who will eat up this new restoration. I’m not sure it’s something I would go out of my way to watch again, but I can see why it was a festival hit and why others would like it.
Next is the documentary Comedy Confessions about three struggling stand up comics who are homeless in Los Angeles. All three live in their cars while trying to make a name for themselves. It was filmed years back, but seems to be updated because one of the three ends up being a big star, Tiffany Haddish. The two men go nowhere, but Haddish makes a name for herself in film, commercials and on stage. I’m curious if this would have been released on home video had Haddish not become wildly popular. I’m not sure when this was originally made because Haddish had started getting known in the early 2010s then blew up in Girls Trip in 2017. I never knew her story before watching this and now have a lot of respect for her. The two men weren’t as fortunate. One is a Jewish comedian who chose to remain homeless. The other is an African-American man who eventually gets a regular job to support him and his son. I lived in Los Angeles for a few years and my roommate worked for a homeless shelter there so seeing these struggling comedians made sense to me. It costs a lot to live there and living in your car is an option a lot of people choose. You could tell Haddish had an “it” factor from the footage in the film so it makes sense why she might have succeeded over the two men. Pretty interesting documentary.
Sticking with documentaries, Scarf Face takes a look at the world of competitive eating. At first I was into the film as it shows the different people who compete and gets into the Joey Chestnut/Takeru Kobayashi rivalry at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island on the Fourth of July. It then delves into the “dark side” of it with Kobayashi being banned and George Shea’s Major League Eating being bad and not letting its eaters eat elsewhere and making all the money. It talks about a few eaters who died and then takes a hard left and becomes almost anti-American. After an hour about competitive eating it gets into how gluttonous it is while others starve around the world. They make it seem like it’s all rigged so an American always win after years of dominance by Kobayashi. I’m not sure what angle they really wanted to take, but I definitely didn’t expect it to go anti-American after a while.
For TV we have Billions: Season Six. I liked the show the first few seasons, but like so much other TV I lost interest after it all started feeling the same. I watched it to review just like this new season which is the first without Damian Lewis whose character takes a deal to stay out of prison and heads to Switzerland at the end of the last season. Season Six sees the fantastic Corey Stoll as the lead opposite Paul Giamatti. Stoll’s character wants to bring the Olympics to New York in this season. Season Six deals with a lot of change now that Axelrod is gone. Characters have new positions and new allies and villains are formed. It’s still well written and well acted, but it’s not the show I looked forward to before. I now watch to review when it comes my way when before I might have watched when it aired or on On Demand.
The remake of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 hits Blu-ray this week from Mill Creek Entertainment. I had actually never seen the remake starring Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Gabriel Byrne, Maria Bello, John Leguizamo, Ja Rule and more. It even has a small role from Titus Welliver in it. It’s from 2005 and already feels dated. I mean Ja Rule is in it so there’s that. Fishburne and Hawke are always good even if the film is overall mediocre. I believe it’s been available on Blu-ray before, but this new release will probably be more affordable. If you like early 2000s action movies check it out.
Sticking with Mill Creek Entertainment the following films came out last week from them. There is a George Clooney Double Feature with The American and Leatherheads. I always thought The American was underrated and Leatherheads was too. Clooney plays a contract killer in the first who hides out in a small European town after an attack on him and killing his lover. His past follows him though as he tries to hide and get no one else involved. Leatherheads is a fun football comedy that always felt like a Keystones cop type of flick. Along with Clooney it stars Renee Zellwegger and John Krasinski yet few people remember it. I saw it at the theater and still found myself laughing at it rewathing it. If you never gave it a shot, I recommend it.
Martin Short also gets a Double Feature with Cross My Heart and Pure Luck. I’ve always had a soft spot for Short even if some of his films just aren’t that good. Cross My Heart stars Short, Annette O’Toole, Paul Reiser and Joanna Kerns in a late 1980s Rom-Com. It feels really dated now, but Short gets laughs. Pure Luck stars Short and Danny Glover and finds Short as a klutzy accountant sent to find a businessman’s daughter who has fallen from a building and gets knocked out cold by thieves. I laughed a bit, but it’s all too clumsy and what not. Not one of Short’s best as far as I’m concerned and Glover as usual plays the straight man opposite Short’s wild card.
I really like Mill Creek’s Through the Decades Collections which feature 10 films from one decade. They are mixed genres and are fun to have in one collection. This time we have Through The Decades: 2000s. Highlights include the dramas Spy Game, 21 Grams and State of Play. I think State of Play is one of Russell Crowe’s must underrated and you can never go wrong with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt in Spy Game. Nurse Betty and Baby Mama are two comedies that just never worked for me. I hadn’t seen One Night at McCool’s in years and forgot John Goodman was in it. It’s ok, but Liv Tyler is great. The Emperor’s Club stars Kevin Kline and is sort of like Dead Poet’s Society. The Hitcher and Cry Wolf are two horror films with The Hitcher being one of many horror remakes from Michael Bay. The three dramas I mentioned first are worth the collection alone though.
Last we Through the Decades: 2010s Collection which includes the previously mentioned The American. It also has The Thing reboot/sequel starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead which is better than I remember it being. Will Forte’s cult flick MacGruber is definitely good for laughs. The Dilemma with Kevin James and Vince Vaughn I always thought was disappointing. The Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon and Emily Blunt is an underrated sci-fi flick. Your Highness is a stoner comedy that didn’t work for me. Contraband is an underrated Mark Wahlberg action flick. Speaking of underrated, Safehouse stars Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington yet no one ever talks about it besides me. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a charming film starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley which I’ve always liked. Black Sea is a film I had never even heard of yet stars Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, and Ben Mendelsohn. This is the best collection of films in this series.