Happy New Year, all you folks out there who enjoy home entertainment! Hope everyone had their fill of food and friends, but not their fill of films and…felevision(?)… over the holidays because the Blu-ray release schedule waits for no one. Here we are, the 6th of January and we’ve got a whole slew of excellent titles coming your way, beginning with one of my top films of last year, one that’ll likely get nominated for all the Oscars, and another that’s sure to be on the Emmy shortlist.
Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett were already filmmakers I had on my “must-watch” list after I was incredibly pleasantly surprised by their 2013 film You’re Next. The film took the home-invasion slasher genre and turned it completely on its ear by adding in wry, pitch-black humor, really unlikable characters, and a heroine who is easily more badass and brutal than any of the killers themselves. They’re also clearly big fans of John Carpenter, which I, a fellow Carpenter-phile, can’t help but appreciate.
For their follow-up film, The Guest, Wingard and Barrett combined aspects of Carpenter’s film Halloween, James Cameron’s The Terminator, and other ’80s action and sci-fi movies to create what was easily one of my favorite movies of last year. Dan Stevens (late of Downton Abbey) plays “David,” a handsome and mysterious man who shows up at the home of a slain soldier claiming to be the man’s friend from the military. David quickly ingratiates himself into the home of the soldier’s grieving mother, alcoholic father, and his younger siblings, out-of-high-school waitress Anna (Maika Monroe) and still-getting-picked-on-in-high-school Luke (Brendan Meyer). He seems to be the perfect guy, and even helps the family in various (and often violent) ways if they need it. But, believe it or not, not everything is as it seems and David’s past begins to catch up with him, which could put everybody at risk.
Stevens is fantastic as the half-normal/half-psychotic David and adds a lot more humor to the role than you’d probably expect. In fact, the movie as a whole, much like You’re Next but in a different way, lulls you into a sense of relative safety all the while sinister things are happening until finally it’s an all-out race for survival. Even as the mood changes, the sense of humor never quite leaves, and Wingard’s fantastic direction and use of bold colors where appropriate really enhance David’s otherworldly qualities.
It also has a properly badass soundtrack, which made my list of 10 Best Soundtracks of 2014.
Now, I’m going to be sort of controversial about this one, mostly because everybody has been heaping it with praise ever since its release this summer. If there’s one thing that can always be said for Richard Linklater, it’s that he plays by his own rules and takes chances. With a catalog of movies all pushing the bounds of independent filmmaking and the limits of style, he’s made things in different genres, with hugely varying visual landscapes, and of totally different effects. One thing that remains constant, though, is his ability to tell stories about people, relationships, and life and make it cinematic and engaging.
Now, I say all that because in many ways his film Boyhood is the culmination of all of this work. An almost unheard of idea for a movie, tracking the life of a boy and his family, including a sister, a single mother, a rarely-there father, and the other family members and situations that come into that life from age 6 to age 18. And to do this, he actually shot it over a twelve year span so the audience could literally watch the boy, and indeed all the actors, grow and change as the years ticked by. The only indicator that time has passed are these physical changes, not any kind of “Four Years Later” captions. This is such a crazy idea and a miracle that it all came together at all that it’s no wonder so many critics have put it at or near the top of their Best-Of lists for 2014.
However, where I have a problem with the movie is that I don’t really feel like it has a story. It’s just vignettes, which is completely fine. Lives aren’t narratives with definite arcs; they’re a collection of moments and experiences that eventually accumulate into something. However, I feel like by the end of the film, Linklater was trying to make it come together but the previous 3 hours hadn’t warranted that. Some of it felt kind of soapy and Lifetime Movie-y, and so ultimately I thought it was good not great. A film experience worth having once.
But, I’m clearly wrong because it’s picking up accolades and nominations left and right with a lot of people saying it’s going to win all the Oscars. As long as it doesn’t win anything for its screenplay, then I’ll be happy. I have a feeling, though, that I won’t be happy.
Girls Season 3
One of the best and most intentionally frustrating shows on television right now is HBO’s Girls, the story of four women in their early-to-mid-twenties living in New York City and trying to make it in life, love, and careers. I say “intentionally frustrating” because, especially in the third season, creator-writer-star Lena Dunham gives each of the four leads decisions to make, and almost across the board they make the one that makes the audience cringe. This is part of growing up. Even though they’re all adults in the legal sense, they’re certainly not emotionally ready to be independent, even though this season is fully about them trying to be out on their own, separate from the group. Some really great episodes this season, but the standout is “Beach House” where the four friends go to the titular house by the beach along with a group of gay friends and eventually have it out in riotous and heartbreakingly true fashion.
Archer Season 5 – The FX animated spy series went way off the rails (pun intended) with this season where they moved to Miami and decided to become cocaine dealers.
Black Sails Season 1 – Starz’s Michael Bay-produced pirate series has all the swashbuckling you could want, as well as all the improbably attractive people having sex and then swordfighting. Pirates.
Horns – Daniel Radcliffe grows protrusions from his head in a movie based on a novel by Joe Hill. Obviously, you’ll want to see this.
The Boys From Brazil – A 1978 sci-fi/thriller about a group of Nazi war criminals in South America, including Dr. Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) holding clandestine meetings, setting up assassinations, and conducting experiments and the aging Nazi hunter (Sir Laurence Olivier) who is attempting to stop them.
Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh – The sequel to the movie based on a Clive Barker novel. Tony Todd returns.