Welcome back to This Week In Discs where we check out tomorrow’s new releases today!
What is it? Alex (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer) are in love, but their bond is tested when she gets a one-year job contract in Los Angeles. He stays behind in Madrid due to his own job requirements, and the two make plans to stay connected through technology. It’s not easy though, and as the days pass their love and commitment is challenged by distance, emotion, and that very same technology.
Why buy it? It’s entirely possible that my affection and admiration for this film is based on my own two year (with summer breaks) long distance relationship, but even if I hadn’t experienced it myself the raw intimacy on display here would most certainly still be effective. It’s a painfully honest and deliriously sexy look at a geographically-challenged coupling, and the two actors ‐ the only two in the film, seen only in two locations ‐ deliver performances that convince in their love, lust, and frustration. There’s humor and sweetness here too making for a beautiful peek into someone else’s private life that offers insight into your own.
[DVD extras: None?]
Species II (Scream Factory)
What is it? Three astronauts return to Earth after a mission, but they’re not alone. An alien infection has entered their bodies, and it’s driving Commander Ross towards procreation to spread the seed of of their intergalactic onslaught. Unfortunately for the women he beds though that procreation ends in their bloody demise. Scientists and agents decide the best way to catch him is with the help of Eve (Natasha Henstridge), the clone of the first film’s Sil, but as is often the case with government employees they ultimately have no clue what they’re doing.
Why buy it? The original film is a fun, star-filled, B-movie, and while it doesn’t get the same respect I’d argue this first sequel is every bit as entertaining ‐ just for mildly different reasons. The sex and violence are amped up, and the practical gore effects are plentiful and terrific. Less effort is made in the script department, and there are fewer recognizable stars around ‐ Marg Helgenberger and Michael Madsen return alongside Henstridge ‐ but it’s a gory, sexy good time that’s also wonderfully goofy at times. Madsen in particular is just here for the paycheck, but his indifference is great fun. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray is loaded with new interviews with folks speaking their mind about the production.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, commentary, uncut scenes]
What is it? Victoria (Laia Costa) is a young Spanish immigrant working in Berlin who makes a few new friends while out at a club. They hit it off and she finds it difficult to say goodbye after leaving the club, but what she doesn’t know is that her new friends are preparing to commit a crime.
Why rent it? Director Sebastian Schipper’s film has an intriguing “gimmick” going for it in that it’s shot entirely in one take. There are no cuts, hidden or otherwise ‐ it’s an actual single take running over two hours. It’s an impressive accomplishment, but it’s never one that overshadows the characters or film itself with showiness. The film is a character piece around which a story develops, and it requires a committed viewer to stick through the early happenings as it feels like a meandering, improvised situation, but those who do will enjoy watching it all shift in real time. As with The Tribe below, the film would be less effective without the gimmick, but unlike that movie this one develops a life of its own along the way.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Community: The Complete Sixth Season
What is it? The Greendale Community College gang is back! Well, most of them are anyway ‐ Troy (Donald Glover) and Pierce (Chevy Chase) have matriculated out ‐ and their daily struggles have only increased. They’ve left the books behind and have focused on saving the school from threats both outside and within, but the end looks to be on the horizon.
Why rent it? The show is past its prime after its move from NBC to Yahoo as the cast, budget, and creativity are all noticeably smaller, but there are still laughs to be found. Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) is relegated to guest appearances, but the main foursome (Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs, Joel McHale, Danny Pudi) join Jim Rash and Ken Jeong for scattered comedy. The performers rise above the presentation, but the laughs are far scarcer than the ones that made us fans in the first few seasons.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurette, gag reel]
What is it? Danny (Aaron Tveit) is the coolest kid in school, but he lets that slide when he meets and falls for a new girl over the summer named Sandy (Julianne Hough). When summer ends and he heads back to school the two meet again but discover romance is tougher the second time around. He has an image to protect, she has other students to contend with, and they both have songs to sing.
Why rent it? The classic movie musical gets an update that hits all the right notes including a fantastic Vanessa Hudgens in the role of Rizzo, but its greatest achievement is seeing it unfold before a live audience. The energy, timing, and spirit of everyone involved is turned to eleven, and the DVD extras offer a fun look behind the scenes at the controlled mayhem in making it happen. Sure, ideally they could have changed up the ending so Sandy isn’t required to turn into something she’s not just to get the guy, but the old school “innocence” has a charm about it all the same.
[DVD extras: Featurettes]
Hogan’s Heroes: The Complete Series
What is it? A German prisoner of war camp during World War II is home to a motley crew of soldiers from the various Allied countries and their not-so threatening German overseers. Col. Hogan (Bob Crane) is the group’s de facto leader, and with the help of the other prisoners he orchestrates an ongoing series of sabotage missions from right under the Germans’ noses.
Why rent it? The show ran six seasons and 168 episodes, and while it’s ultimately a lightweight comedy week in and week out it’s something of a marvel in its ability to find laughs in this setting. The comedy comes from a combination of smart writing, physical shenanigans, and some terrific performances. John Banner and Richard Dawson are both stand-outs in that regard, but the entire cast does great work. They get out periodically, but the camp acts as an interesting single location for a comedy. Die-hard fans of this late ’60s sitcom will want to pick up a copy for their shelves at home.
[DVD extras: Commentaries, gag reel]
In the Heart of the Sea
What is it? It’s 1820, and the whaling ship Essex is off the coast of New England in a quest for whale oil. They hit the jackpot with a pod of whales, but not long after one of the creatures strikes back and damages the ship beyond repair. The survivors, including its first mate (Chris Hemsworth) and captain (Benjamin Walker) are forced into desperate waters as they struggle to reach the mainland.
Why rent it? This true story led to Herman Melville writing Moby Dick, but Ron Howard’s film moves beyond the whale attack to the drownings, starvation, and worse that followed. These are ultimately the least interesting parts of the film though. Instead it’s the authenticity, atmosphere, and thrill of the whale hunt that demands our attention. The actual hunt scene is reminiscent of the buffalo hunt in Dances With Wolves and succeeds in creating a similar sense of excitement and wonder.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
What is it? General Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) is an aggressively ambitious man fighting for Scotland and the king who rules it, but when three witches predict his eventual rule the prodding of his wife (Marion Cotillard) moves him to steal the throne.
Why rent it? William Shakespeare’s classic tale has been adapted for film before, but none have approached the beauty on display in Justin Kurzel’s big-screen adaptation. It’s gorgeously-shot, and Fassbender and Cotillard give intense and powerful performances. Sean Harris holds his own as a challenger to Macbeth’s reign as well. It’s a straightforward narrative, but the film’s stylish presentation still manages to get in the way of it on occasion.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, Q&A]
Manhattan: Season Two
What is it? Los Alamos, New Mexico is a community populated by scientists and soldiers working to create a nuclear bomb, but the pressures of the job are nothing compared to the pressures of living there with their families. Secrets and lies are the order of the day, and both relationships and lives are allowed to crumble as long as the project remains intact.
Why skip it? The premise and locale are both promising here as the necessary secrecy sets the stage for all manner of intrigue, but something about the drama just feels flat. The cast certainly isn’t at fault, and the production design offers solid period appeal, but the story turns and dramatic beats alternate between the rote and the neutered. It seems too easy to say the issue the show’s home on WGN or that a cable channel with more freedom and cash could improve things, but it’s possible. It’s not a bad show ‐ there’s just too little time and so many better ones that it’s difficult to recommend.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Out of the Inferno
What is it? A new high rise building featuring high tech anti-fire protection catches fire after an unfortunate series of accidents and incidents. Dozens of people are trapped inside, and their only hopes are two firefighter brothers (Louis Koo, Lau Ching Wan) who’ve grown apart after the death of their father in a fire. Fire. So much fire. Add in some merciless jewel thieves, a lost child, a pregnant woman, and a new engagement and you have the makings for burning melodrama.
Why skip it? The two leads are always great to see, but neither can combat the awful CG effects that permeate the movie diminishing the drama, suspense, and effect throughout. The multiple action beats hold promise in their setup, but they too fall prey to the terrible CG work. Seriously, skip it and just watch Backdraft again.
[DVD extras: None]
Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2
What is it? Eighteen years after making his mark on Salt Lake City’s non-existent punk scene, Bob (Michael A. Goorjian) is dead and narrating a story about his son, Ross (Ben Schnetzer). The boy is something of a death-obsessed, straight edge goth, but his first heartbreak sends him into despair and off on a drink and drug-fueled road trip to a punk show. His mother joins forces with Bob’s old friends to find him.
Why skip it? Writer/director James Merendino is probably the only one interested in a sequel to his own 1998 cult classic, but it’s a dream he probably should have left unexplored. The premise is silly and slight, but the bigger issue here is the disjointed cheapness of it all. The low budget doesn’t add to the punk aesthetic, it just feels cheap and uninteresting. Goorjian’s narration is painful to the ears as he channels Quentin Tarantino’s voice and cadence ‐ neither of which are the famed director’s strength ‐ but there’s also no worthwhile explanation as to why a dead man’s speaking anyway. The singular bright side here (beside the 75 minute running time) is the presence of Devon Sawa and Hannah Marks. Both deliver memorable beats ‐ comedic ones from Sawa, dramatic ones from Marks.
[DVD extras: Outtakes, commentary]
Species III / Species: The Awakening (Scream Factory)
What is it? Eve’s daughter (Sunny Mabrey) is raised in secret to be the perfect hybrid of alien and human DNA, but the government and other alien half-breeds are set on her destruction in Species III. When a women suffers a trauma and discovers she’s part alien her life becomes a race for survival against threats both alien and human in Species: The Awakening.
Why skip it? As much as Species III embraces the franchise’s T&A aesthetic ‐ and both are on display here ‐ it feels sleazy instead of integral to the story and characters. (Yes, I’m using integral loosely in this instance.) Even if that’s okay with you though the story surrounding the boobs and butts fails to engage, the action underwhelms, and the move away from H.R. Giger’s designs is ill-advised. The less said about Species IV the better.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes, interviews]
The Spoils of Babylon
What is it? World famous writer Eric Jonrosh (Will Ferrell) presents the long lost mini-series adaptation of his bestselling novel, and it’s not long before you realize why it was lost. Written, directed, edited, produced, etc by Jonrosh, the film tells an epic tale on a budget, a tale of greed, love, murder, and bad hair.
Why rent it? This co-production between Funny or Die and IFC is loaded with game actors ‐ including Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig, Tim Robbins, Val Kilmer, and more ‐ and there are laughs throughout embedded in the absurdity. It would have benefited from a shorter running time, but seeing as much of the comedy comes from gags that run past the point where you think they’d end perhaps that’s intentional.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? Ben and Annie met and fell in love in Chicago, but their relationship is hitting some bumps on a visit to her home town in North Carolina. An old boyfriend is challenging Ben, and some odd aspects of Annie’s life there come to light. Luckily Bigfoot may or may not be in the woods nearby to help the couple through this rough patch.
Why rent it? This little horror comedy automatically earns points for not being a found footage Bigfoot flick ‐ seriously, there have been roughly two dozen in the past few years ‐ but it also succeeds okay based on what it is. The laughs, while never big, frequently land as the characters settle in alongside the story’s setup. It loses some ground once the truth of what’s in the woods comes to light as it’s not presented all that well either visually or script-wise, but there’s enough here to warrant a watch for those more interested in the comedy and Bigfoot possibilities.
[DVD extras: None?]
The Tribe (Drafthouse Films)
What is it? Sergey is a new student at a tough Ukrainian high school for the deaf, and he learns quickly that surviving here means falling in with the school’s hardcore teenage gang. Crime and punishment are the order of the day, but trouble arises when he falls in love.
Why rent it? This highly-acclaimed film accomplishes something new by not only featuring characters who communicate only in sign language but also by doing so without subtitles. The result is a film where we don’t know precisely what they’re saying, but we still follow along with ease. Expressions, energy, and the normal structure of film stories work to inform viewers as to what’s being communicated and where the tale is moving. There’s no denying the somewhat revolutionary presentation, but I’m in the minority as I see the movie as paper thin beyond that conceit. The story is as basic as they come, and while it’s given an immediacy through the sign language, starkness, and use of non-actors none of these elements lift the film far beyond that limitation. It’s definitely an experience, but I wonder how well it would fare if the same method were used to tell a more complex story.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, short film, interview]
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season One
What is it? Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) was abducted as a child and spent the last fifteen years living in a bunker as captive to a weirdo. After she’s rescued she heads to New York City to start a new life, but her previous absence from society makes this an utterly foreign land. She befriends a new roommate (Titus Burgess) and a boss (Jane Krakowski) and learns to live again.
Why rent it? It’s easy to see the influence of 30 Rock here, and that’s a glorious thing. Jokes and gags are constantly moving, and they run the gamut of smart, witty, gross, physical, and just plain absurd. There’s an unabashed love of the surreal at work here that you either get on board for or you don’t, but if you say yes to it the reward is rapid fire laughs and extreme goofiness. Is it funny enough to want a physical copy of your own? Possibly. But the DVD’s sad lack of any extras means watching it via streaming is probably all you need.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) rescues an intelligent hunchback (Daniel Radcliffe) from the circus and names him Igor. The scientist has been working on creating life from dead tissue, and Igor’s help pushes his experiments past the point of success. But at what cost?
Why rent it? We’re already well-acquainted with the story ‐ a fact Igor’s opening narration admits to ‐ but the big change with writer Max Landis’ take on Mary Shelley’s classic is that it makes Igor his own man and puts him front and center. That change leads to some new beats, but the main narrative remains pretty much the same. Scientist creates life, scientist can’t control life, life leads to death. It’s an energetic ride, McAvoy is having a ball, and it’s definitely better than other recent Frankenstein reboots.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, making of]
The Benefactor, Break Point, The Corpse of Anna Fritz, Dickshark, The Forbidden Room, Paris Belongs to Us (Criterion), The Peanuts Movie, Rookie Blue: The Final Season, Terminus
Related Topics: Home Video