Three staffers, three unabashed recommendations.
Giant robots are basically my favorite thing, and thanks to a new Blu-ray set, I was recently able to revisit a giant robot anime show that I absolutely loved in my youth: Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. The show is about five teenagers who pilot big robots called Gundams, and they’re all tasked with covertly ripping apart a wildly corrupt global Earth government… with robots the size of skyscrapers. It also has some soapy teen drama and villains who care as much about dressing fancy as they do about being evil, so that stuff combined with the sci-fi military action is basically everything a young Sam Barsanti could’ve wanted. Looking back now, it doesn’t hold up as well as I would’ve hoped. In the years since, I’ve seen various Gundam shows that predate Wing, and it’s clear that it was mimicking some story beats and character archetypes that had more impact in the older shows. (Apparently a bad guy who wears a mask isn’t a unique thing?) Still, the character and robot designs are as cool as ever, and it’s probably the most approachable Gundam show for anyone interested in joining my giant robot fan club. [Sam Barsanti]
Consider this a qualified recommendation: If the phrase “less funny and more depressingly intense than The Lobster” sends your internal cringe sensors kicking into overdrive, you should stay the hell away from Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest offering, the nastily wonderful The Killing Of A Sacred Deer. Like all of Lanthimos’ films, it plays like the sort of film aliens might make about humanity after stumbling onto the ruins of our most awkward and embarrassing moments, pitting a returning Colin Farrell against Dunkirk’s Barry Keoghan, who gives a brilliantly unhinged performance as a mumbling teenager who might also be the film’s stand-in for an uncompromising Old Testament god. As with much of Lanthimos’ work, the film is at its best when it dives wholeheartedly into the secretly transactional nature of things like love and family. Farrell’s character is forced to contend with not only Keoghan’s spaghetti-gorging nemesis but also desperation-flecked overtures from his wife (a staggeringly good Nicole Kidman) and two children, all trying to prove that they’re the ones who deserve to survive the surreal ordeal Farrell’s failures have placed them in. Featuring one of the most dark-funny endings I’ve seen in years, it’s pitch-black comedy at its finest. [William Hughes]
Hammer Studios may be the go-to name for British genre horror of the ’60s and ’70s, but Amicus Productions was the studio that gave it a run for its money. In the handsome new Blu-ray set The Amicus Collection from Severin Films (available January 16), you’ll get three excellent pictures, along with a bonus disc featuring more than an hour of Amicus trailers, TV spots, and more mementos from the era. But the movies themselves are the centerpiece. There’s Asylum, the studio’s best horror anthology film, directed with colorful panache by studio standout Roy Ward Baker (The Vampire Lovers), which features four excellent (okay, three excellent and one decent) tales of the macabre, all from within the gates of a bleak asylum—oh, and it’s all penned by Psycho novelist-screenwriter Robert Bloch. The second film, And Now The Screaming Starts, is a campier but no less entertaining offering, with a typically fun Peter Cushing performance and cinematography from Oscar winner Denys Coop. The final part of this triptych is The Beast Must Die!, another gleefully demented entry in the “strangers invited to a remote location by an eccentric millionaire” subgenre, with a great werewolf twist to it. It’s the final film Amicus released, and this restoration marks its first time on Blu-ray. Throw in a bunch of special features on top of all that, and it’s a bloody good way to spend a long weekend. [Alex McLevy]