Welcome back to This Week In Discs where we check out tomorrow’s new releases today!
The Leftovers: The Complete Second Season
It’s been three years since nearly two percent of the world’s population simply vanished. The newly-formed Garvey family has left their home town behind after season one’s fiery finale and head to the only community on Earth not to have lost a single soul. The town, nicknamed Miracle, may not have seen any disappearances, but the safety it promises is soon revealed to be an illusion that not even faith can support.
The first season of Damon Lindelof’s HBO series intrigued me with its setup, but it left me cold and uninterested as the episodes moved forward. Season two has had a completely opposite effect ‐ it is mesmerizing, affecting, and memorable television that hits emotional nerves stronger than just about any show I’ve seen previous. The mysteries, big and small, are integral to our interest, but it’s the characters ‐ their stories, their pains ‐ who force their way into our hearts. I’m probably alone in this, but this season had me feeling some serious The Stand vibes with its disparate characters in varied locales with their own tragic back stories building towards something even worse. HBO’s home release is utterly devoid of special features ‐ a disappointment as I would have loved Lindelof’s commentary ‐ but the show alone is worth the purchase for fans of brilliant, thought-provoking, and immensely entertaining television.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
The Big Heat (Twilight Time)
Detective Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford) is a good cop. He fights crime and corruption wherever he finds it, but his latest case brings him close to him when it reveals some of his fellow officers are on the take. Undeterred, he takes the fight to the local crime boss with severe consequences, but the loss only emboldens Bannion further.
Director Fritz Lang delivers a tough and gritty noir with this tale of men and women at both ends of the moral spectrum, and it’s a terrifically dark experience. Ford is tough as rusty nails on the job but a Father Knows Best-type at home, and it shines a spotlight on the effect of facing evil day in day out. The women are far from one-dimensional molls, and Lee Marvin makes for a terrifically brutal heavy.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes]
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is a young woman with dreams of becoming a published writer, but turn of the 20th century society sees that as highly unlikely. She finds validation and a whole lot more when she meets Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a man visiting from Europe with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) in search of investors. The two fall in love, but it’s not until Edith’s father falls victim to a vicious murder that she’s free to marry Thomas and retreat to his estate in rural England. Soon after her arrival at Crimson Peak manor though she begins to suspect that something is amiss.
Whatever else its faults ‐ and there are many ‐ Guillermo del Toro’s latest offers up one of the most gorgeously detailed and elaborately designed haunted houses to ever grace the big screen. Every element, from the wall decorations filled with history to the ornately pieced-together staircase, from the tangible heft of a door to the very grain of a floorboard, feels deliberate in its intended effect. Shadows do battle with Bava-esque hues as a menacing silence welcomes unearthly whispers, and deaths long-forgotten come face to face with those yet to come. The issues are almost entirely script-based, but the Blu-ray remains worthy of purchase thanks to the film’s beauty and the abundance of special features including a fun and informative commentary track.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, commentary]
Support Your Local Sheriff / Support Your Local Gunfighter (Twilight Time)
In Support Your Local Sheriff, Jason McCullough (James Garner) is on his way to Australia, but he stops over in a small Western town after hearing they’ve struck gold. In need of a job while there, he takes the position of sheriff ‐ a position no one else will take because of its short life span ‐ and he might just find a reason to stay too if he lives long enough. In Support Your Local Gunfighter, Latigo (Garner, again) is a con-man who tries to bilk a small town with a scam involving impersonating a legendary killer, but when the real killer arrives in town the plan goes a bit sideways.
Sheriff is the real gem here as it manages to be a comedy/Western mash-up that never becomes a parody. It’s also clearly in love with the genre it’s poling fun at. Garner is terrific, as is the supporting cast, and they find laughs far more frequently than the characters find gold. Gunfighter reunites the director and most of the same cast, but it lacks the earlier film’s wit and punch. There are still some comedic highlights ‐ mostly due to Jack Elam ‐ but they pale beside the joyful zing of Sheriff.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
Where the Sidewalk Ends (Twilight Time)
Detective Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) is trying hard to be a great cop and a better man than his criminal father. His enthusiasm gets the better of him at times resulting in complaints of police brutality brought against him, but when a suspect falls dead at Dixon’s feet he realizes he may have gone too far. Now he needs to figure out how to get rid of the body.
The recent Korean gem A Hard Day takes a more action/comedy approach to a similar setup, but director Otto Preminger keeps things serious and deadly. Andrews finds the pathos in a man completely out of luck and in too deep, and the film is filled with female characters (and performances) holding their own which makes it stand out for the period as well. Preminger punctuates the character work and suspense with brief bouts of action, and the film moves towards an affecting conclusion.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
Det. Ben Walls is injured in a terrorist bombing and left to recover in the hospital, but when he awakens in his room he discovers something is amiss. He seems free of injury, the handful of others in the building are acting odd, mysterious phantoms roam the halls, and a madman (Ethan Embry) is after his blood. This is actually a nifty little thriller that weaves terrorism and the supernatural into a mystery with elements of horror and sci-fi. The story takes some fun turns, and Embry does terrifically terrifying work as a spiritually-motivated killer. Avoid reading more about it or watching a trailer, and just set this one aside for a slow night.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, deleted scenes]
Cowboy (Twilight Time)
Frank Harris (Jack Lemmon) is a hotel clerk who dreams of a more adventurous life beyond the urban comforts of the city. The opportunity arises to join up with a cattle drive, and soon Frank is out exploring the frontier alongside lifelong cowboy Tom Reese (Glenn Ford), but the experience isn’t quite what he expected. More character piece than typical Western narrative, Delmer Daves’ film captures the experience well. We still get minor action beats, but this is a story about the journey ‐ the physical cattle drive and Harris’ realizations about his own life. It’s good stuff, highlighted by some strong performances.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
Freaks of Nature
Dillford is a special kind of town, one where a populace with great differences are able to work together for their shared community. Those differences ‐ the citizens are divided evenly between humans, vampires, and zombies ‐ come to a head though when aliens arrive and throw the town into chaos. There’s something to be said for the creativity and energy on display here, but the movie too often feels so overstuffed with character types that the characters themselves are afforded little time to make their mark. There are some laughs scattered throughout, and the cast (including Mackenzie Davis, Denis Leary, Vanessa Hudgens, Keegan-Michael Key, Bob Odenkirk, Joa Cusack, Pat Healy, Mae Whitman, and Patton Oswalt) is fun and varied, but a lot of it feels like it’s just missing the mark.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Gag reel, deleted scenes]
We watch through the lens of a video camera as the Miller family ‐ dad Aaron (Jeremy Sisto), mom Beth, daughter Marley and son Max ‐ exit their car in a parking garage, luggage at hand, and head into the airport for a two week vacation. The camera operator breaks into their car and uses the GPS system to find the Miller’s home where he proceeds to trash the place and install a dozen hidden cameras. He also builds himself an A/V studio in their attic from where he orchestrates a steadily escalating series of assaults on the family’s privacy, security, and vitality upon their return. It’s clear from the very beginning how things are going to turn out for the family, and the editing/script are such that scenes that could have been scary are neutered of their power. Usually we’re stuck hanging out with the regular folks, and while they’re frequently annoying they sometimes manage to entertain or grow on us. Here though we’re trapped spending the entire film with a bland madman. We never really get to know the family here and therefore don’t care about them, and that’s never a good thing for characters destined for darkness. We should give a damn, but we don’t ‐ part of it is the mundane nature of their interactions, part of it is the frustrating ease with which the killer manipulates them against each other, and part of it is that the film wants us to enjoy the voyeuristic nature of it all knowing that these people are marked for extinction. No thanks.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
The Hawaiians (Twilight Time)
Americans have made their way into the Hawaiian islands, and the paradise may not stay one for long. Politics, racism, and personal dramas become the status quo as locals and newcomers work to make a new state. This continuation of the adaptation of James Michener’s Hawaii explores the continued effect of the white invasion and effort to make Hawaii part of the United States, and it’s exactly as depressing as you’d expect. It’s an engaging enough watch, but it is every bit the drawn out, multi-character drama you’d expect from Michener (for better and worse). On the bright side the cinematography is gorgeous.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Love the Coopers
Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman) are expecting their kids and grand kids for Christmas dinner, but are in disagreement as to whether or not they should tell the family that they’re getting separated. Their son Hank (Ed Helms) is himself a recently divorced father of three hiding his own secret that he was fired from his job and struggling financially. Charlotte’s sister Emma (Marisa Tomei) has been arrested for shoplifting and sentenced to a movie-length car ride in the back seat of a closeted police officer’s (Anthony Mackie) car. Emma and Charlotte’s father, Bucky (Alan Arkin), is distraught that the twenty-something waitress (Amanda Seyfried) he visits twice a day is moving away. Black sheep daughter Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) meets a stranger named Joe (Jake Lacy) at the airport bar and convinces him to come home in the guise of her boyfriend. Of all the threads here it’s only that last one that engages in both its humor and heart. Much of the credit there though goes to Wilde and Lacy who exhibit real charm and chemistry in their banter and glances. She’s drawn to displays of emotion, he’s drawn to her, and while the pairing is simple at times it’s also sweetly endearing and frequently funny. There’s potential in a Before Sunrise-like evening with these two, but unfortunately we’re constantly pulled away from them to spend time with far less interesting characters.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, music video]
A terrorist escapes MI-5’s custody in the heart of London, and while it means a new attack is imminent the bigger threat comes from the knowledge that someone on the inside is a traitor. An ex-agent (Kit Harington) is pulled back into the game while his former chief (Peter Firth) finds himself on the run. This big screen(ish) follow-up to the long-running UK TV series finds some thrills along the way, but it can’t escape its small screen trappings. The cover art wants you to believe it’s on par with the latest Mission: Impossible, but the action beats and story turns here are strictly 24-like in their execution. To be sure, that’s not a bad thing ‐ it’s still a competent and entertaining spy flick ‐ but lowered expectations are in order.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, deleted scenes]
Paulette (Bernadette Lafont) is a poor, elderly widow convinced that her neighborhood’s state of decay is due entirely to the influx of minorities and immigrants, but when she takes a closer look at the crime all around her she discovers something appealing. With just a little bit of effort she turns herself into a successful drug dealer, and soon her money issues are a problem no more. Of course her change in employment status brings new troubles of its own. A setup like this can go either way between tragic and ridiculous, but while this one leans playful it’s never too goofy and finds some harsh beats along the way. The laughs are fortified with sly (but not so subtle) commentary on the economic and social realities of Paris’ suburbs, and Lafont does good work as the cranky title character.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
Playin’ for Love
Coach Banks (Robert Townsend) is used to winning, but he faces his first real challenge when he meets the mother of his star player. She’s beautiful and no-nonsense, and winning her might just be the toughest game of his career. Except it’s no game of course, and romance and hearts are very real, but you get the point. Townsend’s creative peak was the late ‘80s/early ’90s and saw him direct films like Hollywood Shuffle and The Five Heartbeats, but while he’s stayed busy since then it’s mostly been in TV or with lesser feature fare like this. It’s perfectly fine as a romantic comedy, but it never breaks free of its generic framework. Laughs are more in the form of smiles, and the story is adequate without ever transcending expectations. He’s still got a good sense of comedic timing and delivery, but the material just isn’t up to snuff.
[DVD extras: None]
Sheba, Baby (Arrow Video)
Sheba Shayne (Pam Grier) is an ex cop and current big city private investigator drawn back to Louisville when her father runs afoul of some unsavory crooks. Austin Stoker (Assault on Precinct Thirteen) co-stars in this tough little showcase for Grier’s powerful personality that sticks more to ’70s action than blaxploitation. It’s no Coffy, but it’s still a fun ride for genre fans. Arrow Video’s new HD transfer results in a beautiful-looking forty year old film, and the extras offer some insight into the film and Grier’s career.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interview, featurette, booklet, reversible sleeve]
Mara works as a prop/effects maker for low budget movies, but while her career is going strong her love life is at a bit of a stand still. Granted, she’s her own worst enemy as she keeps killing the girls who spend the night and keeping them around until someone new comes along (or they start to smell). Unfortunately for her the women she’s been offing keep returning to torment and tease her. It’s great seeing a serial killer thriller headlined by a woman as the psycho, but the film suffers greatly from poor acting and a plot that feels too reminiscent to the recent Maniac reboot. It’s not a POV film, but Mara’s imaginary hauntings and degrading mental state feel familiar.
[DVD extras: B&W version, deleted scenes]
A posthumous video tip from old M leads James Bond to Mexico City where he succeeds in preventing a bombing by blowing up a couple buildings. New M isn’t too keen on his agent’s actions, but his bigger concern is an impending agency merger destined to replaced both Britain’s MI5 (domestic) and MI6 (international) with the shiny and new Center for National Security headed up by the upstart C who wants to phase out the “double-O” program and replace it with increased surveillance and drone strikes. That’s bad news for freedom lovers, but it’s also a threat to the job security of other letters of the alphabet including new M and Q. It can’t match Skyfall’s cinematography, but Sam Mendes’ return still delivers some visual punch with some strong set pieces and entertaining (but dumb) action beats. The script moves the action around well enough, but what starts as a fast and loose adventure begins to creak and groan as it tries to tie everything together with a weak, vengeance-colored bow. We’re not only asked to accept universal connections between past events, but we’re also given a supposedly ominous villain who suddenly becomes the walking definition of indecisive and inept. The struggles and challenges Bond faced in the past three films are gone replaced by one of the easiest of his career as things fall into place rather than fall before his efforts. Like its immediate predecessor, Spectre ends at a thematic conclusion that could work as Craig’s swan song, but if he does return the final frames also set up an event previously witnessed in a certain Bond film from the ’60s. Either way, and despite this entry’s numerous failings, we’re once again left wanting more.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
99 Homes, The Emigrants / The New Land (Criterion), Grandma, Star Trek: The Original Motion Picture Collection, Star Trek: The Next Generation Movie Collection
Related Topics: Home Video