Welcome back to This Week In Discs where we check out tomorrow’s new releases today!
What is it? Two old friends reunite at a resort in the Swiss Alps to share memories of the past and hopes for their limited futures. Fred (Michael Caine) is a celebrated conductor being wooed by the British government to perform for the Queen, but as a widower his bigger concern is trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Rachel Weisz). Mick (Harvey Keitel) meanwhile is a film director past his prime and trying to bring together a new project in an attempt to get back on top.
Why buy it? More observational character piece than narrative-driven drama, Paulo Sorrentino’s wise and relaxing ode to life is quite possibly 2015’s most beautiful film. Each frame reveals eye-catching visuals in nature, architecture, human motion, or even the simple, occasionally sad visage of Caine or Keitel. The beauty extends beyond the visual though with a score (by David Lang) and soundtrack that evoke mood and memory alongside surreal scenes of human affirmation and a lust for life’s smaller pleasures.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) was a troubled youngster prone to fighting, but he got a second chance when the widow of boxing legend Apollo Creed appeared in his life. The boy was the child of one of Apollo’s affairs and bounced around the foster system, but she takes him in knowing that each of them are connected through Apollo. The present day finds Adonis with a secret hobby of undefeated boxing matches south of the border, but knowing the ring is where his heart is he quits his job and heads to Philadelphia with a plan. He wants his father’s best friend and greatest opponent, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), to train and mentor him towards becoming a champion boxer. The future may be Adonis’ goal, but it’s his past that continually threatens to derail that dream as he struggles to find his own voice ‐ his own purpose ‐ both in and out of the ring.
Why buy it? Creed is a rarity in many ways. Not only is it a sequel that continues the over-riding story even as it creates new blood of its own, but it’s also a film that far surpasses the true sequels that preceded it. Adonis’ story is his own, and as immediately similar as it appears to Rocky’s his challenges and path to victory are unique to his character. Director/co-writer Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) finds a freshness beneath trappings that in many ways have grown stale. Stallone’s Rocky has seen a character arc encompassing nearly an entire life, and the franchise’s last film, Rocky Balboa, brought him to a satisfying ending. Bringing him back to the screen could easily have been seen as unnecessary pandering to give this new film a hook, but instead it ‐ and Stallone ‐ work beautifully to use the weight of Rocky’s character as both a tie to the past and an inspired blueprint for the future.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
What is it? Anna (Beth Riesgraf) hasn’t left her home in nearly a decade. Her father’s death ten years ago left her crippled with agoraphobia, and even stepping onto her front porch is enough to debilitate her. She’s kept busy though caring for her sick older brother, but when he finally succumbs she’s left unsure as to her next move. Her hand is forced after a trio of young men arrive with plans to steal what they’ve heard is a fortune stashed away in the house. Unable to escape, Anna’s only hope is to fight back using her will to survive and an intimate knowledge of the house’s secrets.
Why buy it? Intruders (formerly Shut In) knows the best home invasion thrillers value smart characters on both sides of the front door and delivers the goods with wit, brains, and intriguing story turns. It’s Home Alone for people who think breaking and entering should be punishable by death. The setup makes great use of a characteristic (agoraphobia) that has yet to reach a saturation point, and it succeeds with an intense lead performance, fun story progression, and a terrifically realized single location. The house offers up a world that’s familiar while still being full of surprises, and the live-wire personalities roaming its halls light up the environment with their darkness. It’s entertaining and fun without being overly comedic, and it remains a smart ride through to the end.
[DVD extras: Featurette, commentary]
What is it? Iranian director Jafar Panahi was officially forbidden from filmmaking by his government six years ago, but in that time he’s managed to direct three highly acclaimed films. His latest sees him posing as a taxi cab driver who spends the day picking up a wide variety of Tehran’s citizens, and through a handful of hidden cameras he documents his conversations with them during the drive.
Why buy it? Panahi’s efforts are alone worth praising as he works beneath the power and pressure of a restrictive regime, but the critical response is magnified by the reality that they’re also quite wonderful. Taxi reveals a people and a place that seems foreign to those who only know Iran via the daily news. That said, it should surprise no one that these people are just like us. They have hopes, dreams, fears, and everyday concerns, but perhaps one of the greatest surprises here is the laughter. Panahi finds real joy and humor, and it’s as delightful as it is insightful.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Essay]
What is it? Olaf (Torben Bille) is a little person who together with his mother runs a boarding house that caters to tourists looking for an inexpensive place to bed down for a night or two, but what the visitors don’t know is that these landlords have ulterior motives. The place doubles as a sex-slave training ground, and Olaf finds a new prospect when a young couple moves in unaware of what’s in store for them.
Why buy it? I’m calling this a ‘buy’ but for a very specific audience only. The film is a sleazy, sordid, and disturbing gem guaranteed to leave you squirming whether you’re watching it alone, with friends, or maybe with your own mother. It’s a disturbing romp filled with sex, nudity, and some wildly inappropriate walking stick antics, and you can’t help but laugh nervously as the vile weirdness unfolds before your eyes. I already have Severin’s dvd release, but this new Blu-ray is packed with enough new extras and limited to only 3000 copies, so you’re damn right I’m going to pull an Olaf and double dip.
[Blu-ray extras: Two versions of film, featurettes, lost feature The Blue Balloon, excerpt from Torben Bille porno]
What is it? Brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie are good Canadian guys hoping to fill their days with beer, hockey, and beer, but when they stumble upon a devious plan involving beer, mind control, and beer they’re forced to step up and fight for what’s right. Which is beer, mainly.
Why buy it? This early ’80s gem isn’t the most subtle of comedies, and it’s not very interested in making you think with sharp social commentary, but hot damn is it intent on making you laugh. Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas deliver a constant stream of hilarious idiocy ‐ jokes, sight gags, etc ‐ and the result is a broad comedy that never stops going for the funny bone. All that plus a terrifically villainous turn from Max Von Sydow!
[DVD extras: Featurette, animated TV episode, sketch]
What is it? The Cold War rages on abroad and at home, but no where as fiercely and quietly as the home of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell). The two undercover spies find their missions from the Russian motherland growing more dangerous, their marriage growing more troubled, and their hold on their teenage daughter Paige more tenuous.
Why rent it? This FX series continues to be tremendously suspenseful and engaging television thanks to sharp writing and characters who continue to challenge both our expectations and loyalty. Performances are stellar across the board too. If nothing else, the show deserves a watch out of respect for how masterfully it avoids showing nudity even as fully nude people appear on screen. It truly is an art.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurette]
What is it? On lives a simple life, but his hot temper continues to get him into trouble with those around him. When his father is killed On immediately heads out for revenge, but his rush for vengeance leaves him short of both satisfaction and an arm. Forced to re-train both his mind and his body, On sets himself on a new plan of attack.
Why rent it? Director Tsui Hark gave a shot in the arm to Hong Kong action cinema with this redo of 1967’s One-Armed Swordsman, and he makes it an action film all his own. There is something of a wait before the good stuff kicks in, and Hark isn’t as good here at the drama, but once On gets to training the high-flying ass-kickery begins with fun results.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? Ted (Jared Breeze) is a young boy who lives with his father (David Morse) at a rundown motel in the American West. As a business it’s falling apart, but as an education the isolation and rotating residents offer Ted a unique opportunity to explore his dark creativity. His impulses magnify when a suspicious man (Rainn Wilson) checks in, and together they head toward confrontation and conflagration.
Why rent it? There’s an unavoidable obviousness to this slow-burn tale of evil that hurts the suspense and drama in various measures, but it survives on the strength of its performances and atmosphere. Breeze gives a terrifically unnerving turn as a boy destined for darkness, and Morse and Wilson both deliver strong support. The location, both the motel and the mountainous region, work beautifully to create a way-station feel as travelers come and go, and even if we know where its headed we’re engaged in the journey.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
What is it? Aliens arrive in the skies above the Earth, but rather than attack or invade with violence they communicate a desire to make the world a better place. Their actions lead to an end to war, famine, and illness (and employment and taxes…), but their motivations remain a mystery. The alien leader communicates through a human envoy for fifteen years before finally revealing his true form ‐ and then things get really interesting.
Why rent it? Arthur C. Clarke’s classic novel finally gets an adaptation ‐ and his name is utterly absent from the Blu-ray/DVD cover (front and back). It’s probably fitting as much has been changed on its move to the screen. The story basics remain, but there are enough smaller changes here regarding the children who become central to the narrative to affect the story’s tone and intentions. The reveal of the alien’s appearance is still terrific though, and there’s enough of the novel’s DNA remaining that fans will either enjoy it slightly or despise it wholesale.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
What is it? Gerda (Alicia Vikander) asks her husband, Einar (Eddie Redmayne), to stand in as a model for one of her paintings, and his time in women’s clothing triggers something within. He soon begins wearing them in private, and with Gerda’s blessing he takes strides in public as well. The love and trust between them allows for Einar’s much larger strides into history as a pioneer in the transgender experience.
Why rent it? This isn’t a particularly good movie even if the topic is important and relevant, but it’s difficult pointing a finger of blame in any one direction. Redmayne feels like he’s a trying a bit too hard, and director Tom Hooper does the same, but ultimately the film is made worth a watch by newly minted Academy Award-winner Vikander. It’s a lead performance, despite what the Academy says, and it features the entirety of the film’s humanity and heart. She’s a stunning physical presence, but it’s her performance that stands out as a woman whose love for another transcends her own situation.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
What is it? Don Verdean (Sam Rockwell) is a biblical archaeologist who’s built a career on discovering religious artifacts, but his finds of late have been far from inspiring. When a pastor (Danny McBride) hires him to deliver something truly extraordinary Verdean chooses the road most-traveled and lies his ass off. His scam almost immediately lands both of them in hot water.
Why skip it? Director Jared Hess’ films are an acquired taste, and I for one cringe with each subsequent bite. Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre, Gentleman Broncos ‐ these are not good or funny movies. Those of you who disagree will want to give his latest a spin, but for me not even the film’s many knocks on religious frauds were enough to entertain or engage. The jokes and gags just repeatedly fall flat, and while the cast (which also includes Will Forte, Leslie Bibb, and Jemaine Clement) are all amped up the laughs are as fictional and absent as the biblical artifacts.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentary]
What is it? Derek Waters sits down with comedians and actors ‐ some of whom you’ll actually recognize ‐ as they share stories from history about America’s states and cities as well as topics like games, spies, space, and inventors. Re-enactments, featuring more comedians and actors, bring these stories to life. Oh, and they’re teaching us these historical facts while drunk off their asses.
Why rent it? The comedy stays fairly consistent throughout the season with laughs coming from the drunken storytellers as often as they do from the re-enactments, and while some episodes are more laugh out loud funny than others they’re never less than entertaining. The fact that they’re also educational is an unexpected bonus.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
What is it? An evil wizard (James Marsters) imprisons a helpless princess in an attempt to win her hand, but when she refuses to love him he dispatches a dragon to punish anyone showing public displays of affection. Her only hope is a warrior brave enough and powerful enough to defeat the villain and free her.
Why skip it? It’s necessary to know going in that this is an extremely low budget fantasy film. It’s evident in the casting but even more so in the visual effects department which leave a lot to be desired ‐ having all (or nearly) all of the film shot on a green screen doesn’t help matters either. There are some laughs here, intentional ones, but at nearly two hours this can really only be recommended to hardcore, very forgiving fantasy fans.
[DVD extras: Bloopers, featurettes, deleted scenes]
The Fall: Series 2
What is it? Serial rapist/killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) has left Belfast, but the investigation into his crimes continues with Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) taking the lead. Pressures from the public and within her own department are threatening the case and Gibson’s control of it, but when Spector commits another crime she grows closer to catching her man.
Why rent it? UK suspense series continue to dominate for several reasons, but one of the most prominent is the smartly limited number of episodes. Six is the magic number here ‐ enough to tell a detailed story, not so many as to feel stretched thin ‐ and both Anderson and Dornan make the most of that time. They both give intensely compelling performances as living, breathing characters. Series 2 isn’t quite as terrifying as the first ‐ Spector is still doing his thing, but there’s less of it and he’s now a known quantity ‐ but the drama works. The ending is also a lesser thing, but with series 3 heading our way this year it’s made a bit more palatable.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, deleted scenes]
What is it? Michael Evens (Stephen Baldwin) is a single-parent and a widower who also teaches at a local high school. He decides one day to restart the Bible club that his wife once ran, but he quickly runs into obstacles in the form of other parents with concerns. Will he and his club triumph against these challenges?
Why skip it? Don’t worry, the DVD cover goes ahead and spoils that for you ‐ of course he does. The arguments that are thrown up against the club and its use of public school property are paper thin. That’s not because there aren’t good arguments to be found, but instead it just makes it easier for Baldwin to knock them down with bible quotes and stiff acting. The film sets up a young romance of sorts too between Evens’ daughter and the son of the club’s greatest opponent (Lorenzo Lamas), but it seems a bit misguided in its execution and outcome.
[DVD extras: Featurette, bloopers]
What is it? A secret underground research laboratory becomes the scene of a tragedy when two of its scientists are killed under mysterious circumstances. Something took control of their experiment with malicious and deadly results. A security expert arrives on-site to investigate and makes a frightening discovery involving artificial intelligence and a pair of highly-capable robots.
Why rent it? This sci-fi thriller was originally released in the ’50s in 3-D, but mishandling of film materials meant only standard 2-D versions were available in the decades following its theatrical opening. The missing elements were discovered half a century later, and after a painstaking restoration the film is once again ready to be viewed as originally intended. The movie itself is a fun little sci-fi flick populated with misguided scientists, murderous robots, and sassy chatter between the sexes, and Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray offers both versions along with informative special features.
[Blu-ray extras: 3-D/2-D versions, commentary, restoration demo, interview]
What is it? A band of train robbers led by Claude ‘Sweet Tooth’ Barbee (co-writer/co-director Justin Meeks) head to Texas in search of a buried fortune, but after they leave one too many dead bodies in their wake they find themselves on the run from a vengeful force.
Why rent it? This indie western suffers visibly from its budget ‐ CG blood, some less than stellar performances and set-pieces ‐ but the script and characters are terrifically dark and frequently brutal. This isn’t a story of heroes and villains ‐ it’s the story of villains and victims. Fans of westerns and action films won’t necessarily be overwhelmed, but there’s enough here to satisfy their blood lust.
[DVD extras: Making of, deleted scenes, interviews, commentary]
What is it? Reggie (Tom Hardy) and Ronnie Kray (Tom Hardy) were identical twin gangsters who made a name for themselves in ’60s London by moving with an iron fist to control all of the city’s illegal action. Reggie grows torn between the business and his new love (Emily Browning) while Ronnie’s violent outbursts and unstable behavior lead the duo into troublesome waters with the authorities and their competition.
Why rent it? Writer/director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Payback) is enough of a reason to give this one a watch, but it comes nowhere near the level of his best films. The story has a flat feel to it due as much to the production as to it being a tale we’ve seen many times before. Hardy’s performances are a mixed bag with Reggie being a somewhat normal guy while Ronnie feels/sounds like Bane unmasked. It’s a misfire, but the talent on display is never less than interesting.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, commentary]
What is it? Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) is a young photographer trying to make his mark in 1955 Hollywood, and he finds it when he meets James Dean (Dane DeHaan) in the months before the actor’s first feature premieres. The two formed a minor friendship in their time together, but while the photographer thought he was catching a rising star he was in fact documenting a man who would soon meet a tragic demise.
Why rent it? Anton Corbijn’s film is a subtle look at the two men offering brief, scattered glimpses into their individual lives while focusing on the time where their paths crossed. It’s well-acted and rich in period atmosphere, and it never tries to exceed its grasp. There’s a simplicity to its focus, but the crossroads where these two met is an interesting one for film history buffs.
[DVD extras: Interviews]
What is it? Xu Lai had artistic and romantic dreams as a young man, but his reality turned out far different. He has a corporate job now, and instead of the beautiful goddess he came close to dating he’s married to a loving woman who just doesn’t excite him anymore. A trip to Hong Kong offers him a chance to rekindle his dream, but his family, a murder, and an overdue bout with emotional maturity gets in his way.
Why rent it? This big comedic romp comes from the same filmmakers behind the epic Chinese blockbuster, Lost In Thailand, but this is the better film. It still follows a Hangover-like setup as idiots find themselves in increasing levels of accidental involvement, but the laughs and heart both work a bit better this time around. It’s very Chinese meaning many of the gags won’t land with American viewers, but enough of them hit to make it entertaining.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, bloopers]
What is it? Grady (Will Kemp) is a mob hit man known as the Midnight Man, and while he’s capable and confident in his work it’s one particular trait that makes him special ‐ he’s unable to feel pain (or physical sensations in general). He finds himself in some trouble though after waking up after a fight to discover he can now feel it all. Now feeling pain for the first time ‐ and none too happy about it ‐ Grady goes looking for those responsible.
Why rent it? There’s a fun premise at the heart of this little thriller, and while the tone feels a bit too comedic early on it finds its footing when Grady starts feeling pain. Brent Spiner, William Forsythe, and Doug Jones enjoy their villainous turns, and Brinna Kelly gives good sidekick too. The budget keeps things fairly low-key, but the film features more entertainment and creativity than most direct-to-dvd thrillers.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? Jess (Drew Barrymore) and Milly (Toni Collette) have been friends since childhood, but that bond is tested when both women face the biggest changes and challenges of their lives. Jess has finally, after years of single life, settled down with a man and a child on the way. Milly has cancer. (So not quite equatable challenges, but still.)
Why rent it? Director Catherine Hardwicke’s (Twilight) latest is a solid film, but the highlight here is a pair of strong lead performances by Barrymore and Collette. Both do good work shifting from the playful to the more serious, and they collectively elevate some standard drama into more compelling fare.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, making of, music video, featurettes, commentary]
What is it? It’s 2024, and drug use has been legalized. Black market activities remain though, and to combat it a special police unit is created tasked with stopping that behavior in favor of supporting the drug companies growing richer and richer off an increase in addictions. Frank Grieves is one of those agents, but when his latest investigation paints a suspicious portrait of a popular pharmaceutical company he discovers it’s also painted a target on his back.
Why rent it? Sci-fi trappings aside, this is fairly straightforward tale of corruption with a focus on corporate interests flexing muscles they shouldn’t be allowed to have. That element is sadly timely these days in America, and while the specifics are exaggerated the film speaks to the truth inherent in businesses gaining influence into the political arena. The action beats are pretty slight though making for a somewhat low-key thriller.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, deleted scenes]
What is it? Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lost his parents as a young man, and his two best friends (Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie) stepped up to become his new family. They started an annual tradition of spending Christmas Eve together in truly raucous style, but ten years on the three decide to end it as they begin going their separate ways. The plan is to make their final Xmas Eve an epic blow-out, but it exceeds even those high expectations.
Why rent it? Rogen and Gordon-Levitt are in familiar waters here, but Mackie gets to stretch his comedic chops here with mostly solid results. It’s not as consistently or loudly funny as some of Rogen’s previous efforts, but its heart is in the right place. The film’s highs and lows though both come from supporting players. Michael Shannon shines as the trio’s drug dealer ‐ you’ll wish the entire movie just followed him around ‐ while Miley Cyrus feels like a miscalculation with too many lines. They really should have held onto the home video release until November or so to take advantage of the holiday.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, gag reel]
What is it? Big Ben is a slave forced to endure the daily tortures and indignities of life as a slave, but when he discovers he’s been sold to a new owner who’s potentially even crueler than the one he’s currently with he’s forced to make a choice. That choice is a run for freedom. Ben and his friend, Moses, head off on a dangerous journey to the free state of Pennsylvania in search of a new life.
Why rent it? Lynn Whitfield, Keith David, and John Diehl co-star in this tale of courage and hope, and the intentions of all involved are respectable. It’s an important story and a struggle worth remembering, but the film does little to distinguish itself. Harsh events play out as expected on their way towards the inevitable conclusion, but there’s little in the story or performances that feels memorable.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? Emma (Ashley Benson) arrives in New York City filled with ambition and ideals, but as she weathers the ups and downs of living alone in the big city she unwittingly steps into a nightmare. Someone has hacked into her life via her laptop, cell phone, and other judiciously-placed cameras, and they slowly begin dismantling her feelings of safety and security.
Why rent it? Like The Den before it, this is a horror film that terrifies by way of our phones and laptops with the lesson being that people should stop positioning their shit with the camera facing towards them. Like too many found footage-like films there’s a lot of mundane setup, but there are also some very scary sequences as the man gains access to her apartment. Benson is terrific here and quickly gains our concern, but sadly the ending is a big enough letdown to taint everything that came before it. The only question remaining is whether or not you believe this is the first time I’ve written something featuring “Ashley Benson” and “taint” in such close proximity.
[DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
What is it? Jack (Jacob Tremblay) lives in a square room with his mother (Brie Larson), and it’s the only place he’s ever known. His mother was abducted and imprisoned years ago by a man who frequently sexually assaults her, and one of those assaults resulted in his birth. When the opportunity finally arrives to escape she entrusts young Jack with an important role, but first she has to prepare him for the world outside.
Why rent it? Lenny Abrahamson’s feature received multiple Academy Award nominations, and it won the one it most deserved ‐ Best Actress for Larson. She delivers an intensely compelling performance as a trapped woman town between her own existence and the safety of her son. Tremblay is equally terrific with one of the best child performances in years. I’m in the minority on this one, but the film around them isn’t up to that same standard. The other characters are flat, and the narrative in the second half drags ‐ but these knocks still pale beside the power of the those two lead performances, so for some of you this may still be a Buy.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]
What is it? Carl Boenish was a pioneer in the extreme sport of BASE (buildings/antennas/spans/earth) jumping, and while his life stands as a testament to the excitement, beauty, and achievement of the sport his tragic death is a reminder of the absolute danger.
Why rent it? BASE jumping is one of those sports that the vast majority of us will never attempt, but this doc captures the beauty of what we’re missing as well as the risk. Archival footage and stunningly-shot aerial photography bring Boenish’s efforts to the screen and succeed at highlighting the appeal and the reward of the sport.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, short films]
What is it? A scientist (Mickey Rourke, sure) develops a new program capable of moving a person’s consciousness into another person’s body, but trouble arises when the technique is… weaponized. A cop’s investigation leads him to discover the program and he’s forced to risk his life to stop it before those in power abuse it further.
Why skip it? Tom Sizemore also stars, and while Rourke and Sizemore in a new film at one time held promise these days it just means it’s another Tuesday. The science is slight, and the action is fairly generic leaving this a feature that rests solely on the appeal of its cast. Rourke/Sizemore fans take note though, they’re not the leads. Johnny Messner gets that honor, for better or worse.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
What is it? A mysterious virus spreads throughout a safari park killing all of the animals. Worse, it brings them all back to life as undead killing machines. It’s up to those trapped inside to stop the menace before it spreads out into the world.
Why buy/rent/skip it? I haven’t seen this one and therefore have no real idea if it’s worth your time (or mine), but I’m including it here for one reason. It’s called Zoombies.
[DVD extras: None]
A Country Called Home, The Fall: Series 2, Flowers, Home, Kung Fu: Trailers of Fury, Paprika, Strike Back: Season Four
Related Topics: Home Video