Welcome back to This Week In Discs where we check out tomorrow’s new releases today!
The Second Mother
Val has spent more than a decade as nanny, housekeeper, and cook to a wealthy family in Sao Paulo while her own daughter, Jessica, is raised by relatives in a small rural town hundreds of miles away. Her efforts have always been for Jessica, but as the years ticked by it became more and more difficult to reconnect with her daughter. Their two worlds collide though when Jessica comes to the big city intent on attending college and finds herself at odds with the subservient lifestyle her mom is leading.
This delightful Brazilian comedy/drama offers up a series of terrifically honest and relevant observations on the country’s class boundaries and expectations, but while similarly-themed films lean heavy on the drama this one instead focuses on the humor and the heart. The dialogue is witty and fast-moving, and the relationships feel real and lived-in. Regina Case, as Val, delivers a tremendously warm and funny performance, and her interactions with both her adopted family and her own daughter showcase a rare humanity.
[DVD extras: None]
The Look of Silence
The Act of Killing featured a handful of older men discussing and re-enacting a youth spent as perpetrators of terror, violence, and near-genocide in the 1960’s. This follow-up focuses on a local family who discover through the footage not only how their relative was killed but also that the killers are currently their neighbors. Against everyone’s better judgement, one man decides to confront the men to ask about their actions.
Director Joshua Oppenheimer’s second documentary look at the darkest part of Indonesian history is an even more affecting and harrowing endeavor. Adi Rukun, the man whose bravery knows no bounds, is a tremendous figure, and through him we can feel the fear, loss, and emotional weight that decades of silent oppression carries. It’s as suspenseful as any narrative feature you’ve seen, and while we know Rukun isn’t in danger it’s impossible not to worry as he faces off against terrible men who feel nothing for his ‐ or anyone’s ‐ pain. Drafthouse Films’ Blu-ray/DVD release adds a healthy amount of background information via interviews and Q&As filling the picture in even more.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Booklet, commentary, Q&As, interview]
Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is part of a six-person team of astronauts working a short mission on the surface of Mars when a fast-rising storm separates him from the group. All signs point to him being deceased, and in fear of further casualties the remaining members of the team evacuate and begin the long trip back home. Watney survives though, and after making it back to their surface base ‐ one designed to support life for a month ‐ he’s faced with a dire situation. He has no way to communicate with Earth or his fellow astronauts, he’s stuck on a planet where food doesn’t grow and water doesn’t readily flow, and even if he could contact someone a rescue effort would be many, many months away.
The Golden Globes may categorize Ridley Scott’s latest as a comedy, but while it is very funny at times the film succeeds as one of 2015’s greatest adventures. There isn’t a dull moment to be found, and the film’s pacing is a beautifully executed series of escalations that level off only to then ramp up again. It feels lean, fast-moving, and absent the bloat that accompanies too many of Scott’s “epics,” and he manages to deliver big even as Watney’s isolation highlights something more intimate. Damon creates an immensely human character with personality and wit to spare, but it’s his brain that gets the most screen time. Rather than feeling like dull science lessons his efforts come across as mini adventures in botany, engineering, physics, and pure resourcefulness, all buoyed with a sense of humor and the sincere hope that it won’t blow up in his face. We’re in this race with him ‐ each triumph has us cheering, each setback feels like our own. There’s a reason it made our list of last year’s best movies. See it.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel]
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Rosencrantz (Gary Oldman) and his friend Guildenstern (Tim Roth) are nobodies in a world of royalty and class privilege. They wander through lives they think are in their own control, but when their good friend Hamlet begins showing signs of depression and madness they realize they’re on paths of someone else’s making. As they move unknowingly towards their fates they find themselves at odds with the philosophy and reality in equal measure.
Tom Stoppard’s witty and incisive play comes to the screen with a terrific cast (including Richard Dreyfuss and Iain Glen) and a story that works beautifully on two different levels. On its surface the film is simply an extremely funny tale about two dunces who can’t catch a break. The laughs come from physical gags and smartly-written banter ‐ the game of tennis with questions in place of balls/swings is an all-timer ‐ but there’s also a brilliantly orchestrated meta level to it all as the two characters come to realize their lives are scripted. It’s probably obvious, but the better your memory re: Shakespeare’s Hamlet the more you’ll enjoy the film.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews]
Contracted: Phase 2
Riley caught something from a sexual dalliance, and that something is now rotting his flesh. The woman had been infected with a virus and passed it on before her own demise, and now Riley’s own biological clock is ticking down too. His only hope is to find the man who started it all and hope he still has enough time left to not only save his own life but that of every one around him too. This sequel picks up shortly after the end of part one, and its biggest problem is that it feels every bit like a part two of a trilogy instead of its own stand-alone story. At under eighty minutes in length it’s a fast watch, but it’s not a very entertaining one. Sure the gore is solid ‐ body horror is always gooey fun ‐ but a prick protagonist makes it tough for us to care, and the lack of a full story certainly doesn’t help.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Hotel Transylvania 2
Dracula’s (Adam Sandler) daughter, a bloodsucker off the old block, has married a human man and given birth to a bouncing baby boy. He seems perfectly healthy, but Drac’s concern is that the kid might not have inherited his vampire genes. Laughs and hijinks ensue. Fans of the first film will probably enjoy some similar chuckles here ‐ with characters voiced by the likes of Mel Brooks, Steve Buscemi, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, Keegan-Michael Key, Andy Samberg, Molly Shannon, and David Spade ‐ but if that one didn’t grab you the sequel most definitely won’t. The gags all feel either obvious or loud, and the central plot never feels all that engaging. Yes yes it’s a kids movie, but it’s not one I’d share with kids I know.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, sing-along, music video, commentaries]
Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a college professor who’s seen better days. Life has left him unmoved and uninterested ‐ as well as overweight and addicted to alcohol ‐ but when he starts teaching at a small college he finds inspiration in an unlikely place (Emma Stone). You can pick literally any minute of this film and anyone who’s seen a Woody Allen film in the past decade would recognize it as a Woody Allen film. Is that a good or bad thing? Your call, but for me the characters and dialogue just feel continually familiar and unbelievable. Phoenix is good here, but none of it feels like real drama and very little of it manages to elicit laughs. That said though it’s great to see Parker Posey onscreen for more than a few minutes.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Maison Close: Season Two
The Paradise continues to be Paris’ most popular brothel, but its ongoing success seems in doubt when new challenges enter through its front doors. As always, it’s the men who appear to hold all the cards, and they’re coming at Vera and the girls from all sides. A new authority figure attempts to oppress with strict morality while a group of men more upfront about their unsavory habits promises to be their protection. This French series comes to a close with season two but not before delivering more sexual antics and depressing realities for women living in a man’s world. The series has always been well-acted and attractive to the eyes ‐ referring to the production design of course ‐ but the character drama can be inconsistent. Minor story lines from the likes of Deadwood and Boardwalk Empire are made central narratives here, and the situation doesn’t always warrant the detail.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Booklet]
Mr. Robot: Season 1
Elliot (Rami Malek) is a smart, dedicated IT security specialist with a mild social awkwardness. He’s also an expert hacker who spends his evenings breaking into other people’s accounts for fun. One of his clients suffers a massive online attack, but while Elliot fixes the problem he discovers it may have been planned with the singular purpose of getting his attention. An underground group wants to strike back against “the man” by erasing all of the debt, and they want Elliot’s help. The USA Network hasn’t really made a splash in some time, but this this ten-episode thriller with an unusual lead protagonist caught the imagination with good reason. It’s smart and darkly funny at times, and the scripts never talk down to viewers in regard to the tech angle. Malek’s performance can be frustrating ‐ it’s not bad, but the character’s flatness can be a challenge for viewers used to being drawn to a protagonist. He grows on you though.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel, making of]
A team of soldiers awakens in a hospital with unclear memories as to how they got there. They were on a mission in the Middle East and in pursuit of a special object, but after that? Nothing. The medical staff works with them to help them remember, but as their memories return they discover the truth is not as simple as they had hoped. There’s a nice little Twilight Zone-feel to this low-budget thriller, but it’s reserved for short bursts and the third act. Much of the rest of the film has a dry, dullness to it though that makes waiting for the more suspenseful or surprising bits something of a drag.
[DVD extras: None]
Ex-Deputy So & So lost his job on the force after his friendship with a disturbed writer ended in the author and his family being savagely murdered, and he pays the bills now as a private investigator for hire. He’s also keeping busy trying to stay one step ahead of a nightmarish entity named Buguul and the children it corrupts into murder. His efforts to prevent new families from being slaughtered leads him to a young mother named Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and her two sons. They’ve taken up residence in a house with a bloody history as a temporary refuge from Courtney’s abusive husband, but as terrifying as her ex is the horror growing under her new roof is far more threatening. It’s tempting to wonder if Sinister 2’s screenwriters even watched the first film, let alone paid attention to it, but that’s pretty much a non-starter as Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill co-wrote both films. Everything that worked so well in the original is absent here ‐ terror, restraint and mystery ‐ and we’re left only with obvious, generic scare attempts and an excess of unwanted information. The Super8 home movies that work so beautifully in the first film fail to capture the imagination here. They feel like slight imitations, and when a couple of them try to up the ante by adding gore the whiff of desperation becomes noticeable. They’re obligations here instead of terrifying glimpses into a nightmare, and like the rest of the film they fail to entertain or disturb.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Extended kills, deleted scenes, making of, commentary]
The American Friend (Criterion), Bitter Rice (Criterion), Flutter, Howl, Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance, Sherlock: The Abominable Bride, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Sweaty Betty, Uncle John
Related Topics: Home Video