Queued Up: Holiday Gift Guide Part II

Queued Up: Holiday Gift Guide Part II

—by , December 23, 2015

Terminator Genisys

BLOCKBUSTER BONANZA

Terminator: Genisys, the fifth installment in the Terminator franchise, seems like overkill, but at least the densely plotted story allows us to contemplate the complexities of time travel, the nature of free will, having memories from a future you’ve never known, and how a T800 unit can look old when in every other movie Arnold looks so much younger. This time out, we see how Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) got sent back to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), but in an unexpected twist, he discovers that the timeline has been altered because in this post-first movie world, a new Terminator was sent back to protect Sarah Connor when she was nine, so the mission directive has changed. Many of the famous moments from the first film get redone, and events become a bit convoluted at times, but we get some explosive action and crazy effects to distract us. Terminator: Genisys is not a necessary sequel but a better one than you’d expect. If you’re a fan of the genre, you may enjoy it, although this really should be the last chapter.

The Jurassic Park franchise also got a big CG injection this year with Jurassic World, the action-crammed sequel that takes place some 20 years after the original story. A now successful theme park island is doing well, with new, gene spliced dinos well contained and captivating the masses. But when the highly volatile and intelligent Indominus Rex breaks free, all hell breaks loose, and the park’s staff must decide how to contain the threat and when to begin an evacuation. Naturally, they want to avoid a PR disaster, but it’s too late for that. The main protagonists are hunky but chauvinistic raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and independent, workaholic park operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) who seeks to save her two nephews from the carnage. It’s easy to see how many people perceived the movie as sexist, especially since the childless single lady learns how to embrace her repressed maternal instincts. (Eye roll.) Yet oddly enough, the story also satirizes alpha male assumptions about women. Claire certainly proves that she has plenty of guts. In the end, it’s an impressive spectacle and a wild ride, although nothing will ever outdo Steven Spielberg’s original movie.

 

SUPER-SIZED HOBBIT

It’s that time of year when a new extended edition of a Peter Jackson movie comes out. In this case, the third installment of the Hobbit series, The Battle Of The Five Armies. If you’re a fan of these cinematic Tolkien adaptations, the bonus materials should keep you happy for hours (about 9 or so), including extensive looks into the production. The Hobbit franchise really should have been two movies not three, but fans still flocked to it worldwide. The best part of the last chapter is Smaug’s destruction of Laketown at the beginning and the giant five army melee that comprises at least one third of the film. Additionally, The Hobbit: The Motion Picture Trilogy (Extended Edition) box set collects all three extended cuts so you can sequester yourself in Middle Earth for a whole weekend.

 

HAMMER TIME

The iconic Hammer Films produced some classic Gothic horror films in the ’50s and ’60s, thanks to talent like stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, directors Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis, and writer/director Jimmy Sangster. While they are not overtly scary today, one can still be impressed by their look and style. This first Blu-ray collection of Hammer titles (Horror Classics, Volume One) distributed through Warner Bros. offers vividly colorful packaging and beautiful restorations of The Mummy (1959), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), and two Lee fang fests, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1969) and Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970). I am admittedly confused as to why Warner Bros. did not assemble all seven of their key Hammer titles (including four Dracula movies) into one package rather than release this odd assortment, or downplay the Hammer name in the collection title. Let’s hope they put one big Hammer box at some point, but for now, this will satiate those wanting some Blu-ray Hammer releases. Other home video companies should follow suit.

 

OUTATIME

You’re probably burnt out on all of the Marty McFly memes and retro time travel nostalgia that has flooded Facebook and social media lately, so I’ll keep this simple. The Back To The Future: 30th Anniversary Trilogy encompasses the sci-fi comedy saga in HD and features a plethora of bonus materials, a majority from the 2010 reissue and some new ones created for the first film’s latest anniversary, including a new short with Doc Brown, a mock Jaws 19 trailer, and a look into the 2012 restoration of the famed DeLorean from the series. The original film is still a classic, while the other two are fun but not utterly necessary follow-ups. Marty McFly and Doc Brown (Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd) are the anchors for the whole series, and they have their inspired moments in every installment. If you own the previous Blu-ray set, you don’t need this, but if you or a loved one does not have it yet, snap it up.

 

ALL YOU DO IS TALK TALK

Directed by Louis Malle, My Dinner With Andre is famous/infamous for being a two-hour talkfest between utilitarian artist Wallace Shawn and his more pretentious, globe-trotting friend Andre Gregory, whom he reunites with over dinner and debates the nature of life, art, love, and what really qualifies as living. It might be hard for younger, ADD-riddled viewers to sit through it in one sitting (I admittedly had the same problem), but it still resonates with fascinating dialogue and universal themes that will inspire your own post-viewing dialogue. The 1981 film is packaged in the 3 Films box set with two later Shawn-Gregory collaborations, a theater rehearsal of Vanya On 42nd Street (1994) featuring the twosome, Julianne Moore, and a few other cast members; and A Master Builder (2014), a film based on Henrik Ibsen’s play of the same name, co-starring Shawn, Gregory, and Julie Hagerty. The extensive bonus features delve deep into each project; the Andre chats with its two stars total an hour alone.

 

GRIPPING CHARACTERS

Australian director Bruce Beresford has excelled at making socially topical period pieces throughout his nearly 45-year feature film career, and two of his best, Breaker Morant (1980) and Mister Johnson (1990), have been reissued through Criterion. Both films deal with men caught up in political struggles who become sacrificial lambs of sorts.

In Breaker Morant, three Australian soldiers (Edward Woodward, Bryan Brown, and Lewis Fitz-Gerald) helping the English fight Dutch settlers in South Africa at the turn of the Twentieth Century are court-martialed after bad intel results in a raid on innocents and an unnecessary death. The British imperial command want to use their alleged crimes as a way out of a useless, bloody war, but the three men and their inexperienced attorney (Jack Thompson) are not going down without a fight. Told through many flashbacks, the film exposes both the cynical politics of war and the way in which governments will easily cast aside the men who serve them.

In Mister Johnson, which is set in 1923, the titular character (Maynard Eziashi) is a Nigerian clark to British settlers (lead by Pierce Brosnan and supported by Edward Woodward) who dreams of bigger things than the quaint life in his village. He ingratiates himself to his white superiors while being bragging to his countrymen about his wealth and running up debts he cannot pay due to his extravagant lifestyle. Johnson is a multilayered character, both an idealistic fool and a conniving social climber who thinks he can game a system that is gaming him. He thinks of himself as English, while many of the British see him as just another servant. In this moving character portrait, the exploitation of one culture by the injection from another has unexpected consequences.

Both films feature fantastic performances, lovely music, and some spectacular cinematography (particularly the lushly filmed Mister Johnson). Beresford is a thinking man’s director. His movies may not be fast paced or action packed, but each one says more than a franchise of action movies ever could. The Criterion reissues include essays along with excellent new and vintage interviews.


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