Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon.
Island of Death
Christopher and Celia arrive on the beautiful Greek island of Mykonos and immediately head out for some frolicking in the sun. One of their first stops is a phone booth where they decide to fornicate inside this glass display case… and call his mother while doing so. “Guess what I’m doing mother,” he says into the phone as he screws the squeaky blond. “I’m in a telephone booth on a small Greek island and I’m making love.” The two hypocrites then proceed to slaughter others on the island as judgement against their various lifestyles.
When people say “they just don’t make movies like that anymore” Island Of Death is the “that” they’re referring to. Murder is the least of the offenses in a movie featuring goat molestation, excessive tongue waggling, gun barrel fellatio, a golden shower perpetrated against a slutty old woman, hippie rapists, decapitation by bulldozer and some of the rudest dialogue to come out of Greece since the audience reaction to Nia Vardalos’ My Life In Ruins. For all the violence, sex and cruelty on display though this is one funny movie in a blackly comic, far from subtle mix of the intentional, unintentional and ridiculous. It is most definitely not for the easily offended, and if I’m being honest you’re probably going to hate it.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, interview, career retrospective, trailer reel]
The Confession (Criterion)
Costa-Gavras followed up to his widely celebrated Z with another political thriller ‐ this time, bringing to screen the story of Arthur London, a loyal Czechoslovak communist who during the early 1950s was arrested, imprisoned, and interrogated for months by Soviet secret police via unfounded allegations, then subjected to brutal tactics that included brainwashing and sleep deprivation in order to coerce him to participate in a publicly broadcast show trial.
Rejecting the austere social realism practiced by other political filmmakers, Gavras’s unique gift is his ability to deftly unweave a complex and, at first, enigmatic political story through brisk editing, kinetic camerawork, and dedicated performances, here led by Yves Montand. The Confession is a harrowing account of the maddening extents to which a paranoid and organized state will go in order to maintain consent. That it is also an enthralling, edge-of-your-seat thriller is not a contradiction to Gavras’s intents to reveal the deep corruption of totalitarianism. ‐ Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: An on-set documentary by Chris Marker; a French television program featuring London; new interviews with the editor and a Gavras biographer; archival interview with Gavras; illustrated booklet with essay]
Empire of the Ants / Jaws of Satan
A group of strangers mooching free food from a condo presentation find themselves in a nightmare involving giant ants and eerily compliant locals. A demonic serpent and its army of rattlesnake followers invade a small town with only a local doctor, an outside expert on snakes and a priest with wavering faith standing in their way.
Empire of the Ants is good fun and earns points for taking the story in directions beyond simply giant ants vs people. The gem in this new Scream Factory double feature though is Jaws of Satan which, as the title so neatly sums up, can only be described as Jaws meets The Exorcist. We have the local authority who calls in an outsider to help while being stymied by the mayor ‐ who’s trying to avoid bad press and fear ruining the opening of the town’s new dog track ‐ and then a priest forced to confront his growing doubts with the devil’s handiwork right before his eyes. Unexpectedly, this is also a pretty damn funny film. Most of the laughs come from minor characters ‐ John McCurry’s town sheriff is especially entertaining, natch ‐ but they’re nice breaks from the otherwise serious business of devil snakes.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary]
Eric the Viking
Erik (Tim Robbins) is a really nice guy, but he’s a pretty shitty viking. Weary of looting and pillaging, and having never really discovered a taste for rape, Erik convinces his fellow vikings to head to sea in search of the legendary Rainbow Bridge. Their journey is fraught with immense danger and minor inconveniences, and even if they reach Asgard there’s little chance they’ll find their way home again.
In addition to the seeming impossibility of mining rape for some legitimate yet respectful laughs, Terry Jones’ mash-up of ridiculous comedy and adventure is a lot of fun. It sits comfortably somewhere between Jabberwocky and Time Bandits, and fans of the Monty Python boys should give it a chance if they haven’t yet. Even better, while it’s clearly a comedy the film manages some real sincerity in its third act.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Camp counselors and their young wards gather around a campfire spinning tales meant to induce nightmares, but when one of them recites the legend of Madman Marz he unknowingly seals the fate of several of them. Marz reportedly slaughtered his own family and was hung for his deeds, but his body along with those of his victims disappeared and were never seen again. Until tonight that is as he returns to kill again.
Produced at the height of the slasher craze this “killer in the woods” flick originally began life as a take on the Cropsey legend before mutating into its own creation. It’s a low budget affair, but the enthusiasm is clear throughout as the shadowy madman slices, dices, decapitates and strangles his way through the counselors. Sure it’s often amateurish, but time is given to building characters, the bloodletting is never shy and there’s a simple creepiness to some of the scenes. There’s no excuse for that six hour hot-tub scene though. Vinegar Syndrome’s new 4K restoration looks fantastic and comes loaded with fun and informative extras.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, making of, featurette, commentaries]
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles
Orson Welles was many things in his life ‐ actor, director, writer, playboy, troublemaker, FBI target, wine-shill, genius ‐ and this new doc attempts to capture a bit of his magic as it explores both his personal and professional halves. Welles left a trail of ex-wives, daughters and burned bridges in his wake, but through it all he remained true to his creative drive and desire to tell stories his way.
Welles’ story is a fascinating one, and Chuck Workman’s film does a fantastic job of covering the man’s early years as well as his time in and out of Hollywood. Clips from Welles’ numerous productions ‐ both the ones released and the ones that remain unfinished ‐ highlight his work while interviews with friends, family and the filmmakers who came after him add texture and anecdotes to what can only be described as an absolutely extraordinary life.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Sons of Liberty
The streets of Boston are filled with pent-up frustrations as colonists become disenchanted with their British overlords and begin to strike back. The seeds of revolution are planted in over-zealous tax collection and the death of locals at the hands of Redcoats. We follow these early stirrings up through the Revolutionary War itself as a new nation takes its first breaths of freedom.
TV movies about history too frequently suffer from feeling stiff both in their effort to educate and their lack of interest in entertainment, but this History Channel mini-series surprises in that it’s actually well-produced and highly engaging. The cast helps in that familiar (and talented) faces add power to the smaller elements of the bigger tale that most of us already know. It also looks good with a fine and effective mix of solid locales and CG enhancement as backdrops for drama, character interactions and action set-pieces.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
El Viejo (Tom Sizemore) sends a trio of assassins to do what assassins do best, but the threesome drop the murder ball when Bai Ling surprises them with droopy pants and a machine gun. A ringer is brought in to finish the job, but when he balks at the gig El Viejo makes it mandatory by kidnapping the man’s son. Woof. The opening credit montage should be enough to scare off anyone, but if you make it past you’re rewarded with some incredibly poor action, rough acting from people who should know better (and Ling) and a script that is little more than “tough” gibberish.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
A film director addresses the camera, German guards march naked Jews into gas chambers, and that director returns to educate us some more. Also he plays one of the guards watching nonchalantly as men, women and children die horrible deaths. If nothing else, Uwe Boll means well. The self-acknowledged purpose of Auschwitz is to remind people of the atrocity that occurred in the infamous concentration camp almost seventy years ago. Does the world actually need reminding? Boll says yes as not only have the details faded over time but genocides are still a modern day reality in places like Rwanda and Bosnia. He’s right of course on both counts, but does that mean he’s the best man for the job? We all know the answer to that one.
[DVD extras: None]
Dwayne (Liam Hemsworth) wants out of the small town of Cut Bank, but when his simple (read: fairly convoluted) plan to pocket some quick cash goes awry a madman begins dropping bodies in a trail that points right back to Dwayne’s front door. Ignore the cover quotes comparing this to Fargo and Blood Simple ‐ for the love of god no ‐ and don’t get suckered in by the strong supporting cast (John Malkovich, Teresa Palmer, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Platt). They’re all better than the film they’re in here which is nothing more than a slight little thriller. It’s never particularly smart nor twisty, and it’s difficult to care about any of the players.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, commentary, featurette]
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
Dr. Hess Greene is a successful anthropologist whose latest find, a large ceremonial dagger, is turned against him in a fit of madness. The result is death and new life as he awakens with apparent immortality and a thirst for blood, neither of which get in the way of falling in love with a woman named Ganja Hightower. Spike Lee’s remake of the cult classic Ganja & Hess sticks close to the source material’s focus on addiction and assimilation while updating its commentary to modern America’s unfortunate obsession with urban violence. It’s a bloody and sexy affair too, but none of this can support its two hour running time. The characters simply don’t engage at the pace and depth they’re presented in, and we’re left with a limp tale punctuated by graphic bits of flesh and violence.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
The Food of the Gods / Frogs
A strange goo seeping up from the ground is makes its way into the bellies of a small island’s wildlife, and soon they’ve grown to monstrous size and begun turning the tables on mankind. A family of noise-sensitive millionaires find themselves at the mercy of their island’s reptile/amphibian population. Scream Factory’s second “nature gone amok” double feature of the week pairs together two ’70s classics, and both are probably worth seeing once. The Food of the Gods is dumb fun, but it’s a tough watch seeing as dozens of rats are murdered onscreen via gunshots, drowning and electrocution. I know it’s no longer the practice, but animals shouldn’t die for “art.” Frogs fares a bit better in part because it takes a slightly more serious route and features normal-sized creatures. Also, and this is no small thing, Sam Elliott sans mustache!
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, commentary]
A doctor watches in horror as his wife is savaged and killed before he himself is handicapped with a broken leg and a blinded eye. The madman responsible resides in a fortified compound, so the doctor plans an elaborate revenge to reach him inside. He buys a sex slave (Asami), trains her in combat, drugs her to feign death, sews gun parts into her body and ships her “corpse” into the building where she’ll awaken, rip free the parts, assemble the gun and kill everyone in sight. Overkill? Perhaps. Lacking in empathy for another person’s pain? Obviously. This is exploitation designed to appeal to a specific audience ‐ those who like seeing a nude woman brutalized and kicking ass —
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, behind the scenes]
Hello Ladies: The Complete Series and the Movie
Stuart (Stephen Merchant) is a recent transplant from England to Los Angeles, but while he aims to socialize with the city’s hot elite his efforts always seem to leave him standing alone in a corner. The problem being that he’s a bit of a delusional prick. The series follows his misadventures and interactions with strangers, friends and the woman who rents from him. The film came after the show’s end and continues in the same vein while wrapping things up in suitable fashion. Like most HBO comedy series the lead here is an asshole who’s funny and just barely likable enough for viewers to stick with him, but unlike Extras, Curb Your Enthusiasm and their ilk Merchant imbues his show with a more consistently emotional vibe. The mix doesn’t always work, but it maintains a steady appeal throughout.
[DVD extras: Behind the scenes, deleted scenes]
Let Us Prey
Rachel (Pollyanna McIntosh) is a rookie cop starting a new beat in a small town near the Irish coast, and there’s a very good chance she won’t survive her first night. A mysterious stranger (Liam Cunningham) appears on the streets and is soon brought in for questioning, but when he comes in contact with the precinct’s police officers and inmates all hell breaks loose. There’s some real fun to be had with this dark and bloody morality tale thanks to twisted turns, solid action and a menacing turn from Cunningham, but it’s too frequently held back by a script that devolves into goofiness time and again. The characters are too clearly black and white, our heroine behaves stupidly and too many in the cast are over-acting. Still, it’s never dull.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
Five friends (Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Matthias Schoenaerts and… Eric Stonestreet?) share a condo they keep hidden from their wives that allows the men a place to bring side dishes in short skirts for the occasional romp, but the fun and games come crashing down when they discover a dead woman in the bed. Who did it? And why? It made no waves at the box office, but this is a well-crafted and twisty thriller that works more often than it doesn’t. The script stays a step or two ahead of viewers, and the performances are solid across the board too. It’s not flashy or designed to stick with you after the credits roll, but it’s a fun ride while it lasts.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Five friends head into Covington Forest for some fun and games despite both its legendary status as a place of doom and the fact that an acquaintance recently killed himself there. Bad call teenagers! They soon find themselves in a nightmare of mysterious and deadly happenings. This is yet another disappointing POV horror entry ‐ it’s not quite found footage, but it is all from the flashlight’s perspective ‐ that thinks throwing obnoxious teens into some dark woods is enough to justify a film. The core story here has potential with its hint of teen depression, suicide and supernatural revenge, but its execution leaves far too much to be desired. It’s a shame too as the final shot is actually pretty fantastic.
[DVD extras: Commentary, behind the scenes, deleted scenes]
Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf
A man watches helplessly as his family is slaughtered, and years later he returns seeking revenge. It won’t be easy though as his target has taken the precaution of placing seven assassins around him for protection. The setup may sound familiar, but the execution is anything but. It’s a gory, bloody, goofy romp that finds time to throw in zombies and a topless female assassin who hypnotizes her adversaries. There’s definitely fun to be had here, but as is often the case with grindhouse-style homages the premise and highlights aren’t quite enough to warrant a feature. The craziness simply can’t stretch the length of the film, and when nutty things aren’t happening it’s easier to notice and be let down by the sketchy acting, slight script and lack of engaging material.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, making of, bloopers]
See You In Valhalla
A young man commits suicide by meth-dealer, but when his family reunites in the week leading up to his funeral their long-standing feuds return with them. The siblings (Sarah Hyland, Bret Harrison, Michael Weston) fight among themselves but also turn on their father who’s never quite been the man a father should be. There are some fun moments in this slight drama, but it feels ridiculously obvious in its various dramatic beats. The fighting is stagey without any real weight behind it, and the same goes for the display of grief which feels strangely absent through too much of the film. The third act is stronger than what comes before, so if the cast appeals to you it’s worth making it all the way through.
[DVD extras: None]
The world’s most evil witch, Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), a terrible woman totally not named after Fox News’ Michelle Malkin, had been previously drained of her power by the legendary Gregory (Jeff Bridges) the Spook, but those same powers are now returning with the rise of the blood moon. Gregory takes on a new apprentice, Tom (Ben Barnes), whose status as the seventh son of a seventh son makes him someone special despite his having been nicknamed Bland Tom by his fellow villagers. Their training ends early though as Malkin gathers an army around her and the pair are forced into action. If the synopsis sounds like the standard tale of a normal teen discovering he’s actually the only one capable of stopping some great evil, well, that’s because it is. Director Sergey Bodrov’s stab at studio film-making hits all of the expected beats ‐ Tom discovers important truths about himself, he gets a minor love interest, some element of his uniqueness is required to save the day ‐ and never really tries to reach beyond them. The story never deviates from its generic path leading to a mostly unexciting romp through CGI-enhanced British Columbia accompanied by disengaged performances.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, alternate ending, making of, featurettes]
A slacker funnyman and a preppy bully clash on and off the slopes only to settle their squabble for good with a final race through the snow. No, it’s not the final tn minutes of Better Off Dead, it’s the entirety of Ski School! Imagine if someone decided to remake Hotdog: The Movie but without any laughs, charm or comedic stylings. Proceed accordingly.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
State of Siege (Criterion)
Costa-Gavras’s political thriller follows a guerilla group that infiltrates a secret operation in Uruguay regrding American intelligence agents who train police for counterinsurgency and track political dissidents. State of Siege was enormously controversial upon its 1972 release as a result of its allegations about clandestine US imperialism in Latin America, yet its assertions have been validated. As secret empires are able to infiltrate even further in the digital era, Gavras’s magnetic film about silent power only becomes a more potent cautionary tale as it ages. ‐ Landon Palmer
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New interview with Gavras; 1970 news excerpts of the case upon which the film is based; illustrated booklet with essay]
Sword of Vengeance
Shadow Walker is a prince turned slave whose eventual freedom triggers a quest for vengeance against the man responsible. His journey leaves a trail of bodies in his wake, both bad guys and innocents, but his end goal remains more important to him than the present price he’s paying. As should be expected, this is a violent, action-filled film, but it’s too much of a stylized endeavor to ever really take hold. It never looks or feels like we’re in this world, and instead the filter and visual effects work to keep viewers continually at arm’s length from any feelings of immersion.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, behind the scenes]
The dread pirate Yellowbeard (Graham Chapman) is released from prison after two decades of torture and immediately sets out for the treasure he buried long ago. Along with a ragtag crew of pirates, weirdos and the son he never knew he had, he swashes the buckle of every man and woman he meets. Chapman is joined by Madeline Kahn, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman and more in this extremely broad comedy, and while just as many jokes miss their mark as hit there are enough laughs and fun cameos to keep things entertaining enough.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
Beyond Remedy, Drawn in Blood, Emancipation, Enter the Ninja, Heart of America, Invitation to a Gunfighter, Kings of the Sun, Planet USA, Ray Donovan: Season Two, Revenge of the Ninja, River of Death, Tooken, When Calls the Heart: Trials of the Heart, The Wonder Years: Season Three, Zombies from Outer Space
Related Topics: Home Video