I got a few DVDs this week, including Timbuktu, The Great Beauty, Hyena Road, and Mr. Robot Season 1. Oh, and the Lego Dimensions Wonder Woman Fun Pack. She's already proven useful.
DVDs: It's been an impressive year for animated films, and if Inside Out weren't a shoe-in for the Oscar, Shaun the Sheep Movie, despite its awkward title, would be a strong contender. I've never actually seen any of the Wallace & Gromet spin-off's 140 7-minute episodes, but the movie doesn't require you to. It very efficiently introduces you to a large and varied cast, more masterful for not using dialog, and takes you on a journey filled with laughs and charming moments. The claymation process may look old-fashioned, but is taken to movie proportions in the complexity of choreography and the sheer scope of the world presented. When you look in the background, there's always something going on, plenty of hidden jokes and a huge cast of extras. Quite, quite fun.
Just when you thought the revenge thriller genre had nothing new to say, here comes Blue Ruin, an indie flick by up-and-comer Jeremy Saulnier, made on a shoestring budget, but not looking like it. Gorgeously shot from top to bottom, Blue Ruin in a game of Solitaire Fiasco in which the protagonist seems to do the "smart" "movie" things he must do to carry out his plans, but real world logic has other ideas. Saulnier keeps asking "what would *I* do?" but also "what would then happen if I did?". There lies its freshness, in simultaneously playing within the genre's rules and refusing to play by them. I can't wait to see Saulnier's Green Room now. The DVD includes a commentary track from the director and the lead, a making of, some deleted scenes, and the camera test that allowed the production to get financing without much of anything at all. Some great lessons for indie filmmakers in there.
It's become cool to trash the Wachowskis, whose vision often exceeds and escapes their grasp - we get it folks, they'll never make another Matrix - but is Jupiter Ascending really as bad as they say? It's not great, probably their weakest film since Reloaded, but it nevertheless creates a universe I would have liked to see revisited some day. The comparison to (the still much better) John Carter is a fair one. There are several reasons why the film doesn't quite work, of course. Mila Kunis' space princess takes too many things in her stride, for example, robbing the movie of the sense of wonder it really should inspire. It doesn't help that her bulk of the action is to refuse to sign one contract after another, including a bureaucratic comedy sequence that seems spliced from another film, like say Hitchhiker's Guide or Brazil. Finally, there's the script that has so much to explain that it becomes a series of exposition pieces. To be expected, but perhaps a bit clumsy. But the sheer imagination of it kept it afloat for me. An exercise in world-building that unfortunately fails its actors from the script stage on. The DVD includes a couple of making of featurettes, the better one about the animal-human hybrids and the actors who played them.