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Just in time to capitalize on the recent Oscar ceremony, we’ve got two Blu-rays from statue-winners. Along with that, an early ’80s horror flick based on a holiday because that was all the rage, and some other things as well. It’s a Tuesday in February; it’s bound to have something you’ll want to buy on Blu-ray.

Big Hero 6
With the exception of the wonderful (and woefully unrepresented by the Academy) The LEGO Movie, the best animated film of 2014 in a number of ways is easily Disney’s Big Hero 6. Very loosely based on the Marvel comic of the same name, Big Hero 6 is so vibrant, colorful, and amazingly well animated. Plus, the characters, especially the chief relationships between Hiro, Tadashi, and Baymax, are as strong and well-drawn as anything the studio has put out.

The film is actually fairly complexly plotted. It follows a young boy named Hiro who is already a robotics genius, but would rather use his skills to win back-alley robot fights for money than do anything productive. His older brother Tadashi is in a prestigious university for the same type of thing and has created a personal healthcare droid named Baymax. Hiro is eventually convinced to apply to the university, which he does by inventing amazingly useful tiny droids that draw the attention of a tech magnate who offers to buy them. Hiro refuses and almost immediately a tragedy occurs that leaves Hiro all by his lonesome. Eventually, he accidentally activates Baymax, who refuses to deactivate until Hiro feels better. The two begin to bond while Hiro attempts to solve the crime and get recompense for his brother. Naturally, Hiro is aided by four school chums, all of whom join him and Baymax in becoming superheroes.

There’s a reason Big Hero 6 won the Oscar on Sunday: it’s made by Disney. But there’s another reason, and that is it’s an utterly gorgeous piece of art. The colors, Duke, the colors! Scott Adsit’s performance as Baymax also happens to be one of the most emotive voices for any automaton ever. Baymax is perhaps the most adorable thing without much of a face you’re likely to see, and he totally kicks butt also. Great movie, you’ll love it.

The Blu-ray contains a few featurettes and deleted scenes as well as the short animated film Feast about a relationship seen through the eyes of the man’s hungry dog, which also won an Oscar this year.

Who’d have thought a little Sundance movie would have taken home three very well-deserved Oscars this year? J.K. Simmons took home the Best Supporting Actor award, while the film also won Best Editing and Best Sound Mixing. This film, moreso than pretty much any of the others this year, proved that a good movie doesn’t need a huge budget or massive A-list stars to be engrossing, affecting, troubling, and exhilarating. All it needs is a great story, executed well.

You probably know the story by now, but for the uninitiated – Miles Teller plays Andrew, a young and aspiring jazz drummer who is studying at one of the most prestigious music schools in the country. His father (Paul Reiser) is wholly supportive, but worries that his son spends too much time practicing and not enough time living. This problem is compounded when the young man draws the attention of the school’s terrifying and exacting, but impossibly well-respected director (Simmons), who screams at people who get things wrong, to the point that many of them cry or leave or worse. Andrew becomes obsessed with becoming the best and winning the approval of his new conductor, to the point that he forsakes a new girlfriend and begins practicing so much that his hands bleed like he’s a boxer punching brick walls. It’s this obsession and this deeply unhealthy mentor relationship that leads to what is possibly the tensest, most sweat-inducing finales in eons.

You might not assume that a film about jazz music, and specifically jazz drumming, would be so utterly compelling, but it’s not about the music as much as it is about trying to attain perfection in the most self-destructive ways possible. Simmons’ character is scarier than most horror movie monsters, and even more insidious because he does, weirdly, instill a sense that you ought to be doing right by him. It’s astonishing the darkness and complexity of this character, beyond simply all the shouting and swearing that happens, and dear God is there a lot of that. Teller, often forgotten in the mix, is also unbelievably good, and the movie wouldn’t work at all if he wasn’t up to the same level as Simmons, which he clearly is.

Writer-director Damien Chezelle has proven himself a million ways here, and I truly can’t wait to see what he does next.

Enjoy Dan Casey’s Whiplash interviews.

New Year’s Evil

Following the unexpected success of John Carpenter’s Halloween, everybody was making holiday-themed slasher movies. Seriously, it got ridiculous. One of these was the 1980 Cannon Films release New Year’s Evil, in which a guy (Kip Niven) we see the whole time is killing young women in L.A. on New Years Eve in order to get revenge on a rock-star-turned-TV-presenter (Roz Kelly, who was only famous for being Pinky Tuscadero on three episodes of Happy Days in 1976), who is currently hosting the nationwide countdown show. For each new time zone, this guy, who uses a voice garbler on the phone and refers to himself as “Eeee-villlll,” stalks and kills a new woman who has done nothing at all wrong other than being somewhere on New Year’s Eve.

The movie is powerfully silly, especially considering it’s supposed to be New Year’s Eve and nobody is out anywhere. If you know the L.A. area at all, it’s fun to see what neighborhoods looked like in 1980. There are some decent scares and some fairly gruesome ’80s kills too. While the movie doesn’t quite live up to the “best” of the decade’s output, it’s a fun film to watch and chuckle at.


Watership Down – An animated feature made in 1978 based on the novel of the same name, Watership Down is a traumatizing-as-all-hell movie about rabbits forced to flee their home and make it to safety, amid danger and death along the way.

Sons of Anarchy Season 7 – The final season of Kurt Sutter’s popular but sadly under-awarded TV show about a California biker club.

Horrible Bosses 2 – A movie that’s real stupid. Read my full review!

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