We reviewed a slew of Blu-Rays, DVDs, books and CDs in 2019. Time to take a look back at the best & worst of them. While we have seen more movies than the Surgeon General recommends, our lists consist strictly of titles which were sent to us for review purposes.
PURR-R-R...THE BEST: We reviewed some good stuff this year, but the following titles were better than taunting a mouse to death:
10. AT THE DRIVE-IN - I suspect the day will come when the last of America’s drive-ins will make-way for an industrial park or Walmart store, but hope the fine folks at the Mahoning Drive-In will be around to prove me wrong. Their story is a must-see for anyone passionate about movies.
9. THE BUSTER KEATON COLLECTION, VOL. 1 - The General is silent filmmaking at its absolute best and remains massively entertaining today (once you get past the Confederate Army portrayed as the good guys). While decidedly more restrained, Steamboat Bill, Jr. is another charmer and Keaton’s considerable comic gifts are here in abundance. This set is light on bonus features, but the 4K restoration is stunning and both films feature wonderful orchestrated scores by Carl Davis.
8. THE BIG CLOCK - As film noir goes, The Big Clock isn’t a perfect fit – there’s too much breezy humor present for that – but has enough of the same inherent aesthetic and narrative stamps to draw favorable comparisons to the best the genre has to offer. It also happens to be a hell of an entertaining film.
7. LORDS OF CHAOS – Lords of Chaos is a luridly-compelling experience, perhaps even more-so for those unfamiliar with Mayhem’s dubious mark in heavy metal history. In fact, since the film isn’t really about the music, fans of the band or black metal in-general might be put-off at how derisively both are depicted. For everyone else with strong stomachs, get ready for a wild ride.
6. COLD PURSUIT - Liam Neeson has been channeling his inner Bronson for so long that one could be forgiven for assuming Cold Pursuit has him playing yet another one-man wrecking crew. But don’t let the generic title fool you. This is a highly amusing black comedy that just happens to have some great action.
5. THE THIN MAN – One of those old black & white films you show to people who claim to hate old black & white films. This classic comedy-mystery isn’t simply amusing for a 75-year-old movie. It’s as sharply-written, witty and laugh-out-loud funny as any movie, regardless of decade.
4. ROCKETMAN – Elton John’s life and songs are basically re-imagined, not only for dramatic purposes, but to turn his story into an epic musical fantasy with the glamour and audacity befitting of its subject. The film is filled with brilliantly-conceived musical numbers featuring his best-known songs. Taron Egerton’s performance is every bit as remarkable as Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury, plus he does his own singing.
3. THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN - Despite its age, length and complete lack of traditional action, The Andromeda Strain remains an exemplary example ‘70s-era science-fiction, perhaps because it doesn’t feel like science-fiction. It has been released on Blu-ray before, but this version gives it a considerable facelift with a nice 4K scan restoration, remastered audio and a few nifty new extras to go along with some substantial vintage features. An all-around great release and highly recommended for anyone who loves smart, plausible science-fiction.
2. APOCALYPSE NOW FINAL CUT – For a classic film that continues to be extensively discussed, debated and written about, Apocalypse Now Final Cut adds more fuel to the fire. This author feels the new version is as close to perfect as the film will ever get. Opinions vary, of course, which is part of the fun of having all three cuts collected as evidence. For that reason, this beautifully-packaged set is a must-own even for those who’ve already purchased the film several times.
1. ROBOCOP - RoboCop defies single genre classification, successfully combining traditional science-fiction, horror, classic tragedy, dark comedy, sharp satire, cultural commentary and, of course, good old fashioned revenge, all of which are as timely today as they were 32 years ago. It has been released on video plenty of times before, including some editions that were pretty impressive in their own right. But this one is so comprehensive and beautifully packaged that double-dipping should be a no-brainer.
BLEH...THE WORST: As much as we love movies, there are times when reviewing them feels like an actual job. The following titles deserve to be buried in the litter box:
10. SLAUGHTERHOUSE RULEZ - Don’t be fooled by the impressively misleading cover featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost along with a critical quote inviting comparisons to Shaun of the Dead. With its pandering, pointlessly-stylized title, Slaughterhouse Rulez doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.
9. ICEMAN: THE TIME TRAVELER – While the original Iceman wasn't exactly a feather in Donnie Yen's cap, this tepid sequel is one of the worst films in his lengthy filmography. Though elaborately produced, it's undone by a convoluted story, erratic pacing and an uncharacteristically indifferent performance by its star.
8. SCARED STIFF - Scared Stiff simply reeks of the decade from which it sprang, from the synth score down to Mary Page Keller’s Sheena Easton mullet. The faithful few will certainly enjoy Arrow’s 2K restoration and great supplementary material, but time has not been kind to this one. Good for some unintended chuckles.
7. MALEVOLENCE 3: KILLER – A tired rehash of every teen slasher flick that ever oozed out of the 80s. The characters are walking cliches, as are the jump scares and the Carpenteresque score. Devoid of tension or atmosphere, the entire film feels hastily slapped together.
6. THE CHILL FACTOR - There’s a reason Christopher Webster never directed another film and why none of his actors were ever heard from again. The Chill Factor derivative, plodding and creatively vapid, its dead-serious tone undone by laughable dialogue and jaw-droppingly terrible performances. The whole thing looks like it was cynically cranked-out to get onto video shelves as fast as possible.
5. THE HUSTLE – An inferior remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the story is completely free of surprises, its four writers unable to come up with a unique spin on a familiar tale. That might make The Hustle a reheated dish of comfort food for undemanding viewers. It still tastes like leftovers, though, including Wilson’s it’s-funny-because-I’m-fat schtick.
4. LADYWORLD - For the most part, Ladyworld succumbs under the weight of its own pretentious ambitions. The film is stuck with a drab setting, underdeveloped & unlikable characters, superficially-abstract dialogue and – hands down - the most grating, obnoxious “music” score of the year.
3. THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE – It probably goes without saying that the concept of The Haunting of Sharon Tate is in pretty poor taste. But dubious real-life inspiration notwithstanding, The Haunting of Sharon Tate is simply a dreary, repetitive and ultimately derivative slasher film.
2. KUNG FU MONSTER - For a movie titled Kung Fu Monster, there’s damn little of either. And that’s the least of its problems. This is one of those movies where the cast and crew are clearly having a lot more fun than we are. It might amuse undiscriminating 12-year-olds, but most others will likely be insulted by the filmmakers’ apparent contempt for the audience. A depressing waste of time and talent.
1. ACCIDENT – The title could cheekily refer to how clumsily the film was thrown together. Accident is almost completely devoid of narrative logic, plausibility, pacing and continuity. Which is a shame because it's technically competent and the basic concept is solid. Instead, what could have been a tense, tight little thriller ends up being a mind-numbing assault on the viewer's intelligence.