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Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
When we last left them, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow maze rats had escaped the maze only to discover it was a testing ground set up in the hopes of understanding the virus that has decimated humanity. A man (Aidan Gillen) explains that they’re part of a resistance working to rescue the immune teenagers, and their goal is to evacuate the teens to the permanent safety of a viable land beyond the Scorch, but Thomas suspects that something is amiss. It’s not long before the gang leaves the armored compound behind and sets off across the Scorch. Old friends are lost, new ones are made, and each step they take across sandy dunes and through crumbling cities brings them closer to the truth ‐ not only of what’s really going on around them but also of Thomas’ true role at the heart of it all.
Director Wes Ball returns to deliver a sequel that exceeds the original’s reach in action, exposition, and sheer entertainment. What was previously little more than a setup to a story here becomes a fleshed-out tale with plot turns and revelations keeping pace with numerous exciting chases and set-pieces. It’s a lot of movie packed into two-plus hours. It’s also a frequently beautiful film thanks to stunningly crafted CG effects and sharp cinematography. There are some attractively-shot desert scenes, and an early flashback shows frantic survivors hoping to escape the illness that’s already doomed them as skin flakes float in the air like so much diseased snow. The action scenes, both fights and obstacle interactions, offer a consistently clear geography and increased adrenaline, and their variations along with the film’s production design keep each of them fresh and unique as we move from gun play to fist fights to chase scenes to an encounter with I Am Legend-like creatures. It’s still very much part of a bigger story as opposed to its own tale, but while that’s an unavoidable part of being the second film in an intentional trilogy it definitely delivers a movie’s worth of entertainment.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel]
Blood Rage (Arrow Video)
Todd and Terry are twin brothers who occasionally find themselves in minor trouble. Typical stuff really, at least until Terry kills a pair of lovebirds at a drive-in and frames his brother for the murders. Todd heads to an asylum while Terry is allowed to lead a normal life, but this Thanksgiving the tranquility comes to end. Todd has escaped from the pysch ward and is heading home, and while everyone in the apartment complex is terrified of his return Terry proceeds to return to his murderous ways.
There are some typical elements to be found in this ’80s slasher, but they’re overcome with some fun turns and terrifically gory special effects. Louise Lasser plays against type with something of a special performance, but the real joy is in the over the top script, Mark Soper’s line delivery (“That’s not cranberry sauce!”), and the bloody bits. Arrow Video’s new release is a work of real love evidenced by a new 2K restoration and three cuts of the film to enjoy. It’ll become a Thanksgiving favorite in no time at all.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, featurette, commentary]
The Dungeonmaster / Eliminators (Scream Factory)
A computer programmer prone to spending more time with his joystick than his girlfriend is zapped into an alternate dimension by a powerful being (Richard Moll) looking for a new challenger to play his wicked games in, The Dungeonmaster. A mandroid escapes from the mad scientist who created him before returning for revenge alongside a sweet scientist, a mercenary, and a ninja in, Eliminators.
The first film in Scream Factory’s latest double feature is, how do I put this, absolute garbage. It opens with a weird, sexy, monster-filled dream ‐ that has nothing to do with anything ‐ but the film itself is a series of short vignettes of zero value. The challenges our hero faces are again and again beaten the same way, and aside from a briefly seen stop-motion creature the effects are far from entertaining. Happily though, the second feature is a bit of a blast. Sure it’s still goofy and low budget, but the characters are fun and the action is actually pretty damn varied and impressive for a small flick that’s gotten no love since the ’80s. It’s an energetic and amiable romp, and one wet t-shirt aside (depending on your level of prudishness) it’s a family-friendly adventure too.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview]
Mission: Impossible ‐ Rogue Nation
Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has long suspected a secret organization has been working behind the scenes to cause all manner of mayhem in the world, but by the time he gets proof the Impossible Mission Force has been all but shuttered. Forced into the shadows, Hunt calls upon his teammates to bring the truth to light. Standing in his way is a vicious enemy, crooked politics, and a mysterious woman (Rebecca Ferguson) whose motives aren’t entirely clear.
The pairing of Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie is one of my favorites as the two show a fantastic rhythm in their collaborations (Jack Reacher). The action is spectacular, both big set-pieces and small fights, and the humor is allowed to infect an otherwise purely heroic and strong character. The film’s every bit as good as its predecessor, but it steps up the game with the introduction of Ferguson’s character who becomes far more than a simple sidekick limited to one cool scene (a la Paula Patton’s character in Ghost Protocol). It’s an immensely entertaining movie with great action and an equally fun sense of humor.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary]
The Car (Scream Factory)
Hell comes to a small western town in the form of a seemingly driver-less car ‐ hear that Google?! ‐ that begins systematically mowing down pedestrians without reason. The only man standing in its way is the town’s new sheriff (James Brolin) who’s unafraid to go head to head with the devil’s chauffeur. Sure it’s a land-based Jaws ripoff, but this devilish thriller has enough fun with the concept to make for a good ride. Some of the most entertaining moments come watching various members of the stunt team barely ‐ and I mean barely ‐ escape some serious hits.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews]
Extant: The Second Season
Molly Woods (Halle Berry) is recovering at a hospital after her “son” Ethan is taken by the government and her husband is killed in a driver-less car ‐ no, seriously, are you paying attention now Google?! ‐ but her time being relaxed medically comes to an abrupt end. The alien she brought back from space in her uterus is multiplying and leaving a trail of dead bodies along the way, and she knows she may just be the only one who can stop the invasion. Well, with a little help from a rugged ex-cop (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) anyway. The world’s slowest alien invasion continues as the conspiracy grows, but while the concept holds interest it’s Morgan who injects life into the second season playing a laid back, gravelly-voiced, good guy.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes]
Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has been tinkering on a teleportation device for years with his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), but when his invention catches the eye of adult scientists he’s brought aboard to compare notes with another young genius, the not at all suspiciously named and probably fun to hang out with Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). Together with the head scientist’s kids (Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan) they create a machine capable of transporting people to another dimension in the hopes of solving Earth’s resource needs, but bad science, immaturity and a sociopath with a grudge threaten to destroy humanity instead. There is so much wrong here that writing about it feels more like an autopsy than a review. This is simply a legitimately bad movie that feels utterly devoid of entertainment, intelligence and creativity. Instead of witnessing the team learning about their abilities and coming to terms with their conditions we’re dropped into their work with military forces and efforts to rebuild the machine. It feels as if an entire second act has been excised ‐ character growth, conflict definition, the establishing of stakes ‐ and boom, it’s time for the final action set-piece. That’s inexcusable, but the damage would have been less severe if the finale was exciting or memorable in any positive way. A fist fight on a sound stage back-lit by a giant flashlight is neither memorable nor exciting.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Marco Polo: The Complete First Season
Marco Polo’s epic journey brings him into the realm and control of the powerful Mongol leader, Kublai Khan, and he soon discovers that his adventure has only just begun. Netflix’s historical series dives head first into the pay cable pool with this attractively-shot show exploring history with intrigue, violence, and lots of gratuitous nudity. Seriously, the scene featuring a nude woman kicking three thugs’ asses with some terrifically choreographed moves is pure art. There’s plenty of nudity-free beauty to be found here too with some attractive cinematography, grand battle scenes, and strong production design. You just have to look past the naked bodies to see it sometimes.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel]
Jeff (Adam Pally) and Anne (Sarah Burns) are good friends who each find themselves in a life slump. More precisely, they’re in romantic and sexual doldrums and have been for years. Hoping to kick things into gear they make some changes in their individual lives and soon find results with members of the opposite sex, but maybe, just maybe ‐ no really, hear me out here ‐ what they really want and need is each other. There are some laughs here including an extremely funny conversation at an all-guy book club, but too many of the beats tread a very familiar path. They also grow somewhat frustrating as the two (but Anne in particular) become cartoonishly obnoxious in their new personalities. Fans of the two leads should give it a watch, but don’t expect anything more than a very obvious indie.
[DVD extras: None]
Ted (voice of Seth MacFarlane) is getting married to a human lady, and no one’s happier for him than his best friend John (Mark Wahlberg) even though he’s going through his own heartbreak. His love life is on the rocks, but bigger issues strike the pair when Ted’s civil liberties are challenged after his attempt at adopting a human kid. Hilarity ensues! I kid of course. There are no laughs here. Admittedly though my dislike of the first film means I’m far from the target audience for a sequel. These characters just aren’t funny, and while a couple Family Guy-like cutaways elicit a smile the vast majority of the film is a laugh-free zone. Comedy failings aside though, does anyone actually think Ted should be allowed to adopt? Forget the fact that he’s a stuffed bear, the bigger issue is that he’s an aggressive asshole. Look how often he breaks things when angry! Jerk.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel]
Time Out of Mind
George (Richard Gere) is homeless in New York City and trapped in a world that just doesn’t seem to care. He’s a big part of his own problem, but the kindness of strangers is revealed to be a powerful motivator. His newfound strength leads him to try and reconnect with his estranged daughter (Jena Malone). Good intentions are well and good, but are they enough to overcome a lifetime of pain and neglect? Writer/director Oren Moverman’s latest is a simple tale loaded with heavy drama, but Gere’s performance is the most compelling element here. He’s always been a reliable actor, but he does tremendous work here bringing life to a bleak reality.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, PSA, featurette]
Zombie High (Scream Factory)
Andrea (Virginia Madsen) is new to an elite boarding school, and her status as an outsider grows as she begins noticing strange behaviors in her fellow classmates. They’re acting like perfect students instead of the rowdy teens they began the school year as, and as the changed grow in numbers she suspects the faculty may be behind it all. This late ’80s thriller is something of an oddity as it approaches the horror/comedy genre without ever crossing fully over into a laugh-fest. Instead it’s something of a humorous, teen-centric take on The Stepford Wives, and while it plays out pretty much as you’d expect with that description it manages a handful of fun beats along the way. The highlight though is seeing a young Paul Feig in a fairly substantial supporting role.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Burroughs: The Movie (Criterion), Finders Keepers, He Named Me Malala, Stalingrad, The Strongest Man, The Surface, Tokyo Fiancée, Triumph of the Will, What Have You Done to Solange? (Arrow Video), Wolf Totem
Related Topics: Home Video