Bodyguards, bikers, and ballers oh my!
Pick of the Week
10 Cloverfield Lane
What is it? Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is in a car accident and awakes to an injured leg and a chain securing her to a bare wall, and soon she meets the man responsible. Howard (John Goodman) is a self-described “sensible guy,” and he needs her to know three things. An attack of some kind has left the world outside this underground bunker saturated with poison gas, he’s responsible for saving her life, and as he says plainly right before her face drains of hope and vigor, “No one is looking for you.” Michelle soon gets the lay of the strictly dictated land. She’s not allowed to leave ‐ it’s for her own safety, but the multiple padlocks on the bunker’s hatches, as well as the gun on Howard’s belt, make it a difficult prospect regardless ‐ but it should only take a year or two for the deadly gas above to dissipate.
Why buy it? Issues with the ending aside, this is a top-notch, claustrophobic little thriller. The majority of the film takes place in cramped quarters, and director Dan Trachtenberg makes sure we feel that lack of space in our lungs. An air vent sequence in particular might just trigger fears you never knew you had. We grow to understand the geography of the bunker along with Michelle, but just as important and well-defined is the film’s attention to sound design as both the familiar and the foreign reverberate between the walls. Scenes of plausible serenity give way to suspense and terror, sometimes slowly, excruciatingly, and sometimes faster than we’re prepared for ‐ blame Goodman for most of the latter instances ‐ and the entirety holds viewers in a grip that only continues to tighten. Don’t worry about its connection to Cloverfield, and just enjoy the ride.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]
What is it? Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are preparing for their 45th anniversary together, and their happiness and love are as strong as they ever were. Five days before the celebration Geoff is notified that the body of an old lover, lost in a glacier’s crevasse, has been found in the melting ice. As the days pass his memories of another life grow as do Kate’s feelings of uncertainty.
Why rent it? You just want to hug Rampling and tell her it’s all going to be okay. Kate discovers additional details about Geoff’s life with his past love, and while it all occurred before they even met the weight of it all behind his eyes worries her. Both of their performances are strong, but Rampling is absolutely devastating. It’s not a film I expect to rush and re-watch anytime soon, hence the rent instead of buy recommendation, but it’s a fantastic film all the same.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Bodyguards and Assassins
What is it? Hong Kong in the early 1900’s is a political system in turmoil. A revolution builds in the backstreets and pachinko parlors as citizens at all levels of society are forced to decide where their loyalties reside. Amidst the speeches and debates comes word that a hero of the revolution is to be assassinated by nefarious agents as he passes through a particular area. A ragtag group of working men and women (including the always fantastic Donnie Yen) determined to prevent it stand up to protect not only one man’s life but also the future of China.
Why buy it? This feels like two films, and that’s not just because it runs over two hours. The first half is a dramatic lesson in Chinese history and politics as the players are introduced, the allegiances defined, and intrigue established. The second half though is an all out action romp that plays like a martial arts fueled remake of Bruce Willis’ 16 Blocks. The target of assassination has to go safely from point A to point B with several individuals and organizations trying to stop him. The action is fast and beautifully choreographed, and special note should be given to the set designers who actually built an entire block of streets, buildings, alleyways, and rooftops for the fights to play against and across.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, interviews]
The Hound of the Baskervilles [Twilight Time]
What is it? The Baskerville family has been cursed for two hundred years, and now another in the family has died a violent death. The next relative in line (Christopher Lee) inherits the estate, but fearing for his life the family agent hires a detective to investigate the curse. That detective? Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing).
Why buy it? Hammer Films’ first foray into the world of Sherlock resulted in an atmospheric classic pitting the world’s greatest detective against the mystery of the hound from hell. Cushing’s Sherlock might not appeal to some viewers as he presents the character as a smart, “normal” detective rather than an eccentric oddball. I’m a fan, and Cushing combined with the lush and moody world around him make for an entertaining and atmospheric pairing.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, featurettes, interview]
Rabid Dogs [Scream Factory]
What is it? Four bank robbers take three innocents hostage as they flee the police and head into the rural landscape in search of freedom. The nightmarish road trip has bloody surprises in store for them all.
Why buy it? Mario Bava’s mid-’70s original is a dark, twisted classic, and this remake chooses, perhaps wisely, not to mess with the narrative. The story remains the same, but it remains one hell of a tale. What the remake adds to Bava’s creation is a fresh style and sensibility that delivers a slick experience that still makes time for brutality and terror. It doesn’t attempt to reinvent the film and instead is happy doing a bang up job of remaking it.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, interviews]
What is it? Victoria (Julie Andrews) is a soprano singer in the early 20th century in search of a job, but the one thing holding her back is the one thing she can’t change ‐ she’s a she, and no one’s hiring. Her friend Toddy (Robert Preston) has the answer though. She can get a job as a female impersonator.
Why buy it? Writer/director Blake Edwards was a busy man through his career, and he’s responsible for crafting a lot of laughs with films like The Pink Panther, S.O.B., and 10. One of his best though, and one of his best cast, is this smart, fast-moving comedy. Andrews is fantastic, but Preston and James Garner are equally memorable.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
Bad, Bad, Gang!
What is it? It’s a beautiful day in Southern California (probably) so two young couples head out in their camper to enjoy nature. Unfortunately for Kane, Eve, Jane, and Able there’s a biker gang who’ve had the same idea ‐ except their idea of enjoying nature is molesting innocent people’s private parts.
Why rent it? The best part of this early ’70s porno is the opening credits that reveals a creatively-minded spirit at the helm. Once that ends though we’re left with action designed for fans of grindhouse film conventions like rape scenes that take a surprising turn and quickly turn into consensual sex. Things grow darker, but as gritty as it seems at times it retains a playfully sleazy spirit. You know if this is for you. Proceed accordingly.
[DVD extras: None]
Ballers: The Complete First Season
What is it? Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne Johnson)was a football star once, but he’s found a new calling in retirement as a financial manager for other current and ex-players. It’s not exactly going smoothly though as he faces challenges with clients, competitors, and his own bank account.
Why rent it? HBO has essentially updated their “classic” football sitcom, 1st & Down, with bigger stars and a bigger budget, and the result is slight entertainment that manages some laughs alongside the female nudity contractually obligated by all HBO shows. Johnson is good fun here.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Eddie the Eagle
What is it? Eddie is a bespectacled kid with a leg brace in ’70s England when he decides his life goal is becoming an athlete in the Olympics. He perseveres while no one believes in him, breaking multiple pairs of glasses in the process, and by 1987 Eddie (Taron Egerton) comes to settle on ski jumping. England has no team, which is fine as Eddie has no coach or experience. One of those things changes when he meets Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), an ex-American ski jumper has-been who takes Eddie under his wing as the young man heads into the ’88 Winter Olympics to compete and make his mark on sports history.
Why rent it? The story is true, but the film trades facts for jokes, comical conflicts, and opportunities to channel ’80s cinema. It’s not a spoof, but elements like the poppy synth score, elder official with a stick up his behind, and sneering and sculpted competitors give a punchy, dated feel as it aims for laughs and heart in equal measure. Neither overwhelm, but they’re both here. Egerton is game for the goofiness and shows some comedic chops, but he relies too much on facial geekiness to create a real character. Jackman nails the role of mentor though with the strut and presence of a movie star and earns more than a few laughs of his own. It’s as slight as they come, but enough laughs, charm, and inspirational energy exists to make it a fun, forgettable watch.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Get a Job
What is it? Will (Miles Teller) and Jillian (Anna Kendrick) are college graduates in love and ready to find success in the real world, but the job market waiting for them isn’t necessarily all that welcoming. Good jobs fall through, bad ones rear their ugly heads, and the struggling couple is forced to step up their game in finding just the right career both for them both.
Why rent it? Director Dylan Kidd burst on the scene in 2002 with the indie success, Roger Dodger, but he hasn’t done much since. This lightweight comedy feels a bit beneath him, but his energetic style paired with fun performances by Teller, Kendrick, and a capable supporting cast including Bryan Cranston make for an entertaining but forgettable little movie. It never tries to be more than a goofy romp, and even when it appears to be aiming for serious beats it never actually follow through.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, outtakes]
What is it? Officer David Hendrix (Dominic Purcell) has been on reduced duty since being shot on the job, but he’s not about to let that stop him from confronting bad guys. Things get worse when he’s tasked with babysitting a bad boy actor and the pair stumble into a siege situation when a team of mercenaries assault a mostly empty police training facility.
Why rent it? My first impression of the film upon seeing it at a festival last year wasn’t too hot, but a re-watch found it far more rewarding. Like a mash-up of Assault on Precinct 13 and The Hard Way, the movie maintains a sense of humor throughout the action. And the action is pretty fun too as the gun-play and fisticuffs exhibit some creativity alongside the mayhem. The script is weak, some of the acting even more so, and its nearly two-hour running time is excessive, but there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, bloopers, featurettes]
Hello, My Name Is Doris
What is it? Doris (Sally Field) gave up pursuing her own dreams (in theory anyway) to take care of her ailing mother for several years, and in the process she bacame something of a hoarder. Now that the woman has passed Doris is hoping to start fresh, and that includes finding a love interest. If only someone had warned her co-worker John (Max Greenfield).
Why rent it? My gut says to call this one a skip, but knowing that I’m in a minority of one on that front I’ll call it a rent instead. Field is quite good here, and of course it’s great seeing her onscreen again, but this is not a carefree comedy ‐ it’s a sad, potentially unsettling drama about a deranged stalker with vindictive tendencies. Seriously! And the ending is just one giant false note for her character.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentary]
Inserts [Twilight Time]
What is it? Boy Wonder (Richard Dreyfuss) was once a big time silent film director, but the town’s move into talkies ‐ along with his own alcoholism and agoraphobia ‐ have left him shooting porn in his Hollywood mansion. Over the course of an evening he spends time with two actresses (Veronica Cartwright, Jessica Harper) and a powerful bigwig.
Why rent it? John Byrum’s mid ’70s drama/comedy is an odd bird even before you look at its NC-17 rating. There are some humorous moments here, but most of the film plays like an occasionally engaging stage play with little momentum. Still, it’s worth discovering for Cartwright’s performance alone as she stuns with vitality, humor, and pathos.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Jeepers Creepers [Scream Factory]
What is it? Darry (Justin Long) and Trish (Gina Philips) are siblings heading home to visit their parents, but they’ve made the mistake of taking the long back roads for their journey. When an aggressive driver in a creepy van runs them off the road the duo are thrown into a nightmare involving a creature who comes out to feed and has added them to the menu.
Why rent it? The creeper at the center of this horror franchise is a pretty cool creation, and he stands apart from his contemporaries in both visual design and mythology. It’s goofy at times ‐ did he really stand in a DMV line to get that vanity plate? ‐ but the film manages some fun set-pieces and sequences along the way. The non-creeper characters are just so damn stupid though, and that constant idiocy hurts the film’s momentum. Fans will want to buy Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray as it’s loaded with extras new and old including two commentaries, new interviews, and more.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, interviews, featurettes, deleted scenes]
Jeepers Creepers 2 [Scream Factory]
What is it? The creeper is winding down his feeding frenzy and has set his sights on a school bus filled with shirt-less jocks, but the father (Ray Wise) of a young boy he’s already eaten is hot on his tail with revenge on his mind.
Why rent it? The trend of the first film continues in full force here. The creature is a cool combination of practical and CG effects, and while his mythology and abilities seem to constantly be in flux he remains a more interesting creation than typical horror villains. Most of the characters are once again ridiculously dumb though. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray is another two-disc affair packed with extras making this a worthwhile upgrade for fans.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, interviews, featurettes deleted scenes]
London Has Fallen
What is it? Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler), Stabby McHeadshot to his co-workers, was promoted after saving the lives of President Asher (Aaron Eckhat) and his son three years ago, but with a child of his own on the way he’s decided it’s time to sheath his knife and retire from duty. The untimely death of the British Prime Minister interrupts his plans though necessitating a quick trip to London for the man’s funeral alongside several other Western world leaders. Hundreds of terrorists have descended on the city too, and after a coordinated attack of epic proportions leaves most of London dead or in hiding Banning and the president are forced to choose between fight and flight through the city’s empty streets.
Why rent it? It’s easy to imagine this as a lost entry in the Cannon Films’ canon, buried three decades ago and only recently unearthed, touched up with shoddy CG, and unleashed into cineplexes for our viewing pleasure. It’s gleefully violent, vociferously pro-American/anti-other, ridiculously plotted, and willfully ignorant of politically correct concerns ‐ and if a smile crept up your ’80s action-loving face while reading that sentence then, like me, you’ll probably also find it to be pretty damn entertaining. It’s Chuck Norris’ Invasion U.S.A. updated and relocated to the U.K. with all of its aggressive patriotism and mass slaughter intact.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurette]
What is it? War isn’t solely a human enterprise as evidenced by a heated battle that comes to a head between the Mandarin Ducks and the Military Mallards. The two species feud while their leaders’ children bond, but soon the water fowl must join forces as a new enemy enters and threatens them all.
Why rent it? It can be tough critiquing a film meant for children as their mind sets and expectations are utterly different from those of an adult, but I just don’t see kids enjoying this feature. The animation is sharp yet somehow dull all the same, and while the story is typically basic for a kiddie flick it’s also just convoluted enough that I expect most kids would quickly lose interest. That said, who knows what holds a kid’s attention these days.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Rollerball [Twilight Time]
What is it? It’s 2018, the future, and the world has found peace at last. The secret to the end of warfare rests in the globally televised sport of Rollerball that sees national teams compete in epic battles combining roller derby and skee-ball. The masses are transfixed, and the corporations behind the sport reap the benefits.
Why rent it? Norman Jewison’s prophetic action/drama finds an engaging lead in James Caan, and the actual games build a degree of excitement for the event. Where it stumbles a bit is in the degree of dramatic seriousness it tries to achieve across its two hour plus running time. A precursor to The Hunger Games, the ideas at play here are effective but thin, and without the spectacle of the more recent franchise we’re left with character drama that doesn’t always land.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Romeo Is Bleeding [Twilight Time]
What is it? Det. Jack Grimaldi (Gary Oldman) is not what you’d call a good man. He cheats on his wife (Annabelle Sciora) with another woman (Juliette Lewis) and feeds information to the local mob boss (Roy Scheider), but after years of stashing cash away for an eventual rainy day he hits a stumbling block in the form of a vicious, sexy hit-woman (Lena Olin).
Why rent it? Peter Medak’s film is an energetic neo-noir that delivers a fantastic performance by Oldman, one perhaps unearned by the character, that pairs well against Olin’s equally strong sociopath. Both actors are eminently watchable, but the story moves them through some ridiculous beats and behaviors on their way toward a touching ending that struggles to connect with all that precedes it.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas
What is it? The farmer’s visit to a local fair leads Shaun the sheep to discover a fun new animal guaranteed to liven up the farm back home. He devises an elaborate plan to get three llamas back to the barn, but once he succeeds he discovers it might not have been worth the trouble.
Why rent it? Fans of last year’s best animated film, Shaun the Sheep Movie, will continue to enjoy the dialogue-free, stop-motion antics that Aardman’s animation team have become rightfully famous for. It’s physical comedy delivering solid laughs derived from the action, outcomes, and expressions of the various characters. It’s short, so I’d go with a rental to see if it’s something you expect to be re-watching.
[DVD extras: Featurettes, bonus episodes]
What is it? Larry’s road to a big promotion at work only has one obstacle, his friend Howard who’s also up for the job, so Larry’s wife (Julie Strain) lends a witchy hand and tries to kill poor Howard. She meets her own demise, but now it’s Howard’s wife (Linda Blair) who has vengeance on her mind.
Why rent it? Jim Wynorski’s mid-’80s shocker is a combination of deadly magic and sexy shenanigans with a heavy lean toward the latter. Everyone has sex with everyone ‐ in the present, in flashback, in dreams ‐ and Wynorski’s camera makes sure we’re there for it all. The sex overshadows the film’s horror elements, but the movie is never poorer for it or dull with downtime. This is fun ’80s sleaze, and Synapse Films gives it special treatment with a terrific 2k transfer. The special features are light, but there are two commentaries so now you have three ways to watch the movie.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries]
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle: The Complete Season One
What is it? After his parents die in the jungle their infant child is taken in by a female gorilla who teaches him respect, the English language, and how to master vine-travel. He grows to become a protector of jungle flora and fauna against intruders, violent beasts, and maybe even a few aliens in search of animals for their zoo back home.
Why rent it? CBS’ late ’70s cartoon ran across a handful of shows, and the first 15 episodes are collected here. The animation is typical of Saturday morning fare of the time, which is to say it’s good and fluid ‐ the style is also based on the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ favorite artist, Burne Hogarth. Fans of the original Tarzan novels will recognize characters and locations throughout the eps, and even those unfamiliar should find some entertainment in the action and interactions here. As a bonus, I noticed far more sexual innuendo than I would have expected, so that’s something to look forward to as well.
[DVD extras: None]
Underground: Season One
What is it? The country is torn in two as ideologies, greed, and hatred fuel a long, devastating war. A group of slaves make a desperate bid for freedom from captivity on a Southern plantation to the safety of the North, and while they have killers on their tail they also have a secret community of abolitionists aiding their trek via the Underground Railroad.
Why rent it? Season one covers the groups decision to escape, the planning required, and the beginnings of the journey itself. No one’s really talking about the show, but everyone involved is doing strong work with the drama and suspense.
[DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, commentaries]
The X-Files: The Event Series
What is it? Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are reunited to explore new cases involving strange events, odd deaths, and mysterious causes.
Why rent it? This six-episode limited series has its ups and downs ‐ sadly more of the latter ‐ but the non-canon/Chris Carter episodes are worth the price of admission. Fans of the show will find plenty of joy in seeing Mulder and Scully interact again as the actors continue to show great chemistry. It’s unclear if we’ll get a follow-up, meaning the cliffhanger ending is even more annoying than normal, but it’s still a must-watch for fans.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel, featurettes, commentaries]
Also Out This Week:
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (Criterion), La chienne (Criterion), The League: The Final Season, Under the Sun of Satan, The Young Messiah
Related Topics: Home Video