Welcome back! Well, to some of you, anyway. To the rest of you, glad you decided to stop by and I hope this humble column helps you navigate the stacks of new releases each week. My goal is to point you toward titles of interest and warn you away from those films that seek to do nothing but leech away your time and give you nothing in return.
Full disclosure: I have not seen many of these titles, and what follows are not necessarily reviews, but opinions based upon what I know of the titles I pluck from the new release lists I peruse. The opinions I give based on the new releases are my own, and my recommendations are based on my personal interest. In any case, I hope you enjoy and perhaps find something you like or a title to point me towards.
Where last week was rather weak, this one is stacked with a number of titles that I need to get my hands on. It is definitely a case of feast or famine. This week had four contenders for the top spot.
Pushing Daisies: The Complete Second Season (also Blu-ray). ABC recently burned off the remaining episodes of this series late on Saturday night (then did the same thing for the very good but little watched Kings). It is cases like that which make me angry at anyone who tells me there is nothing good on television. If there isn't anything good on, you aren't looking. That shows like this languish and are ultimately canceled is just sad. Meanwhile shows like Two and a Half Men and American Idol are allowed to thrive. It boggles my mind. Pushing Daisies is a brilliant show cut down well before its time. It stars a wonderful ensemble led by Lee Pace and Anna Friel. It can be summed up by this line delivered by Pace: "My name is Ned, I make pies and wake the dead." Sure, it sounds rather morbid, but the show has life and vibrancy, it's magical and funny, thrilling, and romantic. It is one of the most original shows to reach the small screen in some time and now we will not get any more of it. Do yourself a favor, buy it, rent it, find it on ABC.com, just watch it.
Coraline (also Blu-ray). Writer/director Henry Selick has crafted a film that transcends what might traditionally be called a kids' film. It is a movie that offers up a dark fantasy nightmare for children that tempers its threat with an empowering heroine. It is a story that anyone who was ever a child can identify with, and is dealt with using an intelligence that does not pander to children nor does it talk down to them. It deals with the material with a maturity that belies the mainstream view of it as a kids' film. This is a story about a young girl living in a new home, ignored by her parents and looking for adventure. She gets more than she can handle when she discovers an alternate world where things are, shall we say, off. This is a beautiful and delightful movie that everyone should watch.
Watchmen (also Blu-ray). Based on the graphic novel, which was said to be unfilmable, Watchmen arrived amid great hype earlier this year. When you look at it on paper, the plot seems to be a little conventional. Fortunately, the story is much more layered and complex than I am willing to do justice here. This is a film that eschews standards of action and character development in favor of developing a world that exists in the gray area between good and evil, where motives and methods play both sides of the fence in the service of what may or may not be the greater good. There are many layers to peel away on the narrative side, but it is also an absolute visual feast. Definitely going to look good on Blu-ray. The question is whether to get it now or wait for the inevitable mega-set (which I believe is set to arrive in the fall). It is available in Blu-ray, two-disk DVD, and single-disk DVD and feature a new Director's Cut, which is 24 minutes longer, as well as single-disk widescreen and single-disk widescreen theatrical cut. Too many choices!
Prison Break: The Final Break (also Blu-ray). This is essentially two episodes strung together that cover the the events leading up to Michael's death at the end of the series finale. I have not seen this, so I am not sure how good it is. I cannot imagine it being that great, as the last season was not all that strong.
Monk: Season Seven. I was sad to see this series end, but it is and we will just have to live with the DVDs. Tony Shalhoub is perfectly cast as the defective detective. For seven years he, along with his assistant, played in the latter seasons by Traylor Howard, worked alongside the police to uncover criminals while he also deals with the loss of his wife (which happened before the series started). The show is funny, sad, and satisfying, definitely worth the time.
Psych: The Complete Third Season. This show was perfectly paired with Monk for its first couple of seasons. This show is very easy to watch, it is none too serious, yet is still involving and has likable characters. It centers on a guy who has great skills of deduction and memory. He uses these skills to make people believe he is a psychic and works alongside the police to solve crimes.
Stargate SG-1: Children of the Gods. Recut, remastered, with new effects work and new scenes, this is the premiere episode of the long-running science fiction series inspired by the Kurt Russell film. It ran for five seasons on Showtime before jumping to the SciFi Channel for another five seasons. Whether or not the change makes it any better, I cannot say yet. I do look forward to checking it out.
Robot Chicken: Star Wars – Episode II. The first installment of this themed clip show was hilarious. I can only hope that the second one is as good. I do not watch this show with any regularity, but when I do, their skewering of pop culture with action figures is pretty darn funny.
300: The Complete Experience (Blu-ray). 300 is already getting the Blu-ray double dip, and from what I understand it is worthy of it. I have read that the initial disk did not look all that good. This new release is in Blu-ray book format with a nicely bound book with interviews and information about the film, while the disk itself has a couple of new features and a new in-movie experience. The movie itself is a fantastic one, telling a mythical version of the battle of the Hot Gates. It seems appropriate that this is released the same day as Zack Snyder's latest film, Watchmen.
Echelon Conspiracy (also Blu-ray). This is a movie I know very little about and did not open that wide in theaters. The science fiction thriller is being released through After Dark Films, more known for their low budget horror offerings. The story centers on a young engineer and a one of a kind cell phone that seems to offer up everything the young man desires, and also makes him a target. Shane West (ER) stars alongside Ving Rhames, Ed Burns, Jonathan Pryce, and Martin Sheen. It should also be said that the trailer is awfully reminiscent of Eagle Eye.