Lots and lots of television on the Shelf this week, a lot of which having to do with scary things, no doubt to capitalize on it being the month where scary things are allowed. We also have some excellent sci-fi and fantasy, which is where my focus has gone as comedies and westerns and things of that nature drop off a bit. But, to start things off, let’s get super weird.
Rick and Morty Season One
Adult Swim produces a lot of television and not all of it is for me. One show I kept hearing about from people was the Dan Harmon co-created Rick and Morty. Being the big Community fan that I am, I kept the cartoon series on my radar but never actually got around to watching it until it came time to review the Season One Blu-ray for this here column you’re reading. I don’t say this lightly, but Rick and Morty is one of the best science fiction series on television right now, and also one of the most twisted and hilarious comedies. It does both perfectly, straddling the line between conceptual adventurousness and complete bonkers zaniness. Harmon and co-creator Justin Roiland have made a show that isn’t just throwaway gags. Each episode also leads into the next one, with emotional resonance carrying over week to week, and some episodes even end on a very somber character moment. It’s amazing how good it is. It’s like Doctor Who and Douglas Adams at their best, mixed with puerile (but undeniably funny) humor.
For the uninitiated, Rick and Morty centers on a mad scientist/dimension jumper/evil good guy Rick Sanchez (voiced by Roiland) who has reunited with his adult daughter Beth (Sarah Chalke) and her family after a number of years and has been invited to stay. Rick is an alcoholic madman who invents crazy gadgets and travels time and space for the betterment of….something or other. His son-in-law Jerry (Chris Parnell) is a well-meaning dolt who gets annoyed at Rick’s sci-fi-yness; his granddaughter Summer (Spencer Grammer) doesn’t care much about what’s going on unless it impacts her tenuous social standing; Rick’s forced partner in crime and the one with whom he has the closest bond (despite his hiding it) is his 14-year-old grandson Morty (also Roiland), a shy and nervous boy who gets thrown into weird and dangerous situations on the regular to appease Rick’s whims. Throughout the series, the friendship between the two gets tested and strengthened and it’s pretty amazing that a show like this, in which aliens and monsters and evil mind-altered dogs exist, can have such a strong emotional core.
Of the eleven episodes comprising the first season, almost all of them are winners, but the real standouts for me are “Anatomy Park,” a mash-up of Fantastic Voyage and Jurassic Park, “Rick Potion #9,” in which Morty’s desire to make a pretty girl love him turns everyone into hideous monster people and only the family aren’t infected, “Rixty Minutes,” where Rick hooks up the family’s cable so they can watch television from every alternate dimension (with some of the most belly-hurting laughter of the whole show), and “Close Rick-Counters of the Rick Kind” where the Ricks and Morties of many different dimensions arrest our universe’s Rick and Morty for murdering 27 other Ricks and Morties.
The Blu-ray contains deleted scenes, a small (and very bizarre) making-of featurette, and commentaries on every episode by Harmon, Roiland, and a rotating mixture of crew members. There are also guest commentaries by Robert Kirkman, Matt Groening, Pendleton Ward, and more. I don’t think I can say enough good things about this show, which I hope goes on for many more years to come.
Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart
Speaking of animation and weirdness, but from a decidedly different point of view, we also have the French CG-animated adventure-drama-rock opera Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. The film was a passion project for Mathias Malzieu, lead singer of the French band Dionysos, who had written the illustrated novel La Mécanique du cœur and his band’s concept album based on it. Malzieu also served as one of the directors and the screenwriter, so this is as close to a solo vision as possible. Dionysos provided all of the music, which is sort of horror-infused whimsy rock and is often at odds with the imagery, making this certainly a unique viewing experience.
The story follows a boy named Jack who was born on the coldest day in Edinburgh, a day so cold it stops his heart. His mother gives him to the midwife to save, who does so by putting a tiny cuckoo clock in his chest to keep him alive. As he ages, he is told only three rules for survival: 1) never touch the hands of his clocks, 2) never get angry, and 3) most importantly, never fall in love. Because the second two things are totally things someone can control. Well, unfortunately, both of those things happen when he reaches adolescence: he meets a girl (who has terrible awful eyesight… important plot point) who is a singer in the square and falls for her, and he also meets the older, more dashing boy who is vying for her affections. Eventually, after a clock-related mishap or three, Jack goes off on his own to track down the girl who has gone to seek her fortune in France, and meets up with Georges Melies, the pioneering filmmaker and showman.
The movie doesn’t have the world’s greatest plot, nor are the songs all that complimentary to what’s going on, but there’s an undeniable energy to Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart and a style to the animation that is part Tim Burton and part Pixar. The colors are dazzling and some of the sequences are truly wondrous. It doesn’t hang together quite as well as it might, but it’s certainly worth a look.
Live Die Repeat, formerly Edge of Tomorrow
As I’ve said many places before, Edge of Tomorrow is one of my favorite movies of the year, and no one is more surprised by that fact than me. I also talked elsewhere about how it tanked at the box office largely because of bad marketing, and that people have reached their Tom Cruise limit. One thing that I don’t think affected it at all is the title. It’s not the most inventive or imaginative of monikers, granted, but there was nothing inherently wrong with it, despite the title of the book upon which it was based, All You Need Is Kill, being much more evocative.
But, in an effort, I guess, to recoup some of the losses the very expensive underperformer doled out to the studio, they’ve decided to retitle the movie for home entertainment. That’s right, it’s now Live Die Repeat, which I think you’ll find is a tagline and not a title. The Blu-ray box contains the words of the new title in giant letters under which are the words “Cruise/Blunt/Edge of Tomorrow” apparently referring to the fact that Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, and Jorge Edge of Tomorrow all star in this film. It makes me really sad and confused as to why they decided this was a good idea. It basically does two things: 1) It confuses people who already liked the movie and wanted to buy it, and 2) it confuses people who didn’t see it and won’t buy it because they don’t know what it is. A really dumb idea all around, which is a shame because I really adore this movie.
Sleeping Beauty Diamond Edition
Growing up I was never a big fan of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. I was a little boy (who wanted to be a big boy) and even though Disney’s movies were often full of princesses and romance and stuff, this one always made me glaze over a little bit more than others. I probably hadn’t seen it for 15 years or more before watching the new Blu-ray this week. As with many of the Disney animated classics, seeing them in HD is almost like seeing a whole new film. Sleeping Beauty is gorgeously colorful and looks like a kind of pop-art storybook in places more than any attempt for the world to be realistic. The characters are all lovely and angular, especially the villainous Maleficent who is still pretty terrifying despite that terrible live-action movie’s attempts to tell you otherwise. She’s a villain in this movie, and one that’s almost too good for the other characters in it. The fairies are fun for the most part, but Aurora and her handsome prince are almost nothing more than Generic Damsel and Generic Hero. Still not my favorite of the Disney films, but I definitely have a much bigger appreciation for it now.
American Horror Story: Coven – The third season of FX’s anthology-ish series, this one focusing on a group of witches.
The Following Season Two – With a first season as bonkers and bloody as Fox’s The Following had, any attempt to follow it up would be met with disappointment. And it was. I didn’t like it at all.
Hemlock Grove Season One – The first season of Netflix’s werewolf and weirdness program, produced by Eli Roth, comes to Blu-ray with commentary and making-ofs because otherwise why would you buy it?
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon – Mike Myers directed this funny and moving portrait of a man who few know but who is highly regarded in the entertainment world. Shep Gordon is his name and his journey into the world of glitz and glamour began after literally running into Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and from there he began managing big time power players like Sylvester Stallone and Michael Douglas. Myers’ directorial debut is an upbeat but slightly sad account of the man Myers clearly adores. Well worth a look.
A Million Ways to Die in the West – Seth MacFarlane’s comic western about a cowboy who talks exactly like Seth MacFarlane talking to people who largely don’t.
Obvious Child – Jenny Slate stars in this indie dramedy about a comedienne’s unplanned pregnancy and how that weighs on her life decisions.
Duck, You Sucker! – Sergio Leone’s final western and penultimate film is set during the Mexican Revolution and finds an Irish munitions expert (James Coburn) teaming up with a bandit (Rod Stieger) to rob a bank, but ultimately get embroiled in the war to free Mexico from Spain.