Ready for a summer season of sitting on your ass and watching movies? This week’s got you covered, not only with film options, but with entire television seasons ready to eat away the dry hours of the hot season. So dive in for some guilty pleasures and under-valued gems!
Top 5 Releases
It was a down-to-the-wire judgmental call on which disposable release from earlier in the year was most ridiculously irresistible, and Nicholas Sparks won out over Guillermo Del Toro produced Mama. Safe Haven is one of those films you have no desire to see until you’ve already heard about the twist ending. Swedish director Lasse Hallstom’s penchant has often been for the sentimental (see Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Dear John, Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, etc.), so his placement here obviously isn’t a ringing endorsement. Without giving too much away, the twist this romance is hinged on sounds simply too crazy not to merit a Saturday afternoon viewing. In case you actually want to know the twist *INVISITEXT SPOILER ALERT* Cobie Smulders is a ghost! *END SPOILERS*
Jean-Luc Godard is one prolific director I wish we had more of in our daily lives. His last film, Film Socialisme, was rather the obscure provocation piece, not quite bringing his style to renewed acclaim, and Goodbye to Language 3D still has yet to prop up along the festival circuit. No matter, since his past work is wide enough that it requires some time investment to catch up to all of them. Consider Band of Outsiders the next hurdle, a kind-of gangster film where two young men get a girl they both like – obviously played by Anna Karina – to help them commit a robbery in her own home. The early films of Godard are fascinating because you can see the progression of his skills as if he were still an up-and-comer. His works are so individually divisive that they make his oeuvre irresistible.
I had to dial back my enthusiasm on this pick a bit, because in hindsight there will always be places where this sci-fi series zigged whem I hoped it would zag. I committed to the series early on, and I held onto it through all the wild twists because of how it hinged its sci-fi plotting on characters. At times it would take a turn for the sentimental, but at a point I learned to roll with it. In a way, Fringe became an addiction I was sure would end with regret. The 13-episode final season, however, left me satisfied. Do I think it’s one of the greatest pieces of sci-fi ever erected on film? No, but the fact that it could have been speaks for the potential this under-appreciated procedural scraped at. I highly recommend audiences staking this series out episode-by-episode. They’re not all gems, but they suck you into an incredible 100-episode journey that grooved to its own beat without succumbing to studio cynicism. Ratings declined for 5 years, and stayed on television! How does that not make you curious?
This one is for you guys! Okay, a little bit for me as well, because in its entire run, how can you not love 30 Rock on some level? Tina Fey left SNL to make her mark, and boy did she make it! The ridiculous satire of behind-the-scenes television workings at NBC defined how people received the network: as a joke so ridiculously forced that you have to grin at it. Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, and Jack McBrayer’s characters are such ridiculous characters that they shouldn’t work, but the writing was so lickety-split goofy that the punchline was (for the most part) maintained for seven years. The final season ensured that they went out on a high note, dialing in cliches about series finishes – The Wedding Episode! The Show’s Been Canceled! One Final Show! – in the most off-the-wall, over-the-top sense imaginable. It worked because it was 30 Rock.
Wow, that was quick! It feels like just a month ago that Upstream Color was released in theaters. Wait, it was a month ago. I guess that’s the freedom of distributing a film by yourself. You don’t have to wait for the studios to give you the DVD/Blu-Ray go-ahead. Shane Carruth’s follow-up to the 2006 indie sci-fi film that left everyone scratching their heads in wondrous bewilderments, Primer, has also had viewers scratching their heads, but also their hearts. Reactions from its Sundance premiere ranged from masterpiece to complete confusion, and this DVD release is far from the end of the road. It’s just the beginning, as it allows wider audiences to get their hands on the film and find where they stand. Based on this trailer alone, I don’t know how it can possible be passed up.
Well they ain’t all gems. Matter of fact, Jack Reacher is exactly the kind of film NRA nuts would love, and if you’ve read my review, you know that’s not meant as a compliment. The Oranges, meanwhile, took a cast that includes Catherine Keener and Allison Janney and turned it into, according to Hitfix, one of the worst films of last year. Then there’s Mama, which almost made the Top 5 cut for Jessica Chastain’s reliability factor, but I just didn’t think it was crazy enough. Insanity is an undervalued commodity nowadays. And if you’re in an old-timey mood, we have Blu-Rays coming in for The Great Escape and An Officer and a Gentleman.
Streaming Pick of the Week
Streaming Instantly via Netflix
This Friday brings us the long-awaited release of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, and Strictly Ballroom is also available for instant streaming. Seeing as Alex already brought that film up in last week’s column, though, I decided it would be a good time to bring around this underseen flick from two years back starring Gatsby star Joel Edgerton. This mixed martial arts tournament film does swing on the sentimental side, but director Gavin O’Connor really had a grip of how to make the audience’s pulse pound when it needed to. Add to that brutal performances from Edgerton, Tom Hardy, and Nick Nolte, and this is one fantastically entertaining and genuinely touching bit of inspirational sports drama. It’s the main reason Gavin O’Connor has my seal of approval to bring Jane Got a Gun through an unfortunate production cycle to the big screen in dramatic fashion.