6 Blu-rays Worth Buying Including ‘Argo’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ Plus Rent-Worthy Pics Like ‘Sinister’ and ‘For Ellen’
Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
Fish has just been released from jail, and four ex-friends are extremely happy to see him. He served six years for a robbery they all took part in, and now they want to know what happened to the diamonds they stole. The five men sit down for dinner, sushi served off the body of a naked woman, but soon the evening evolves into a torture session as Fish continues to play dumb about the whereabouts of the gems.
Director Kern Saxton’s film is essentially a single-location thriller that succeeds due to some sharp writing, fun performances and grisly practical effects. The titular character (Cortney Palm) is also pretty damn nice. The cast is a who’s who of B-movie actors including Mark Hamill and Tony Todd with cameo appearances by Michael Biehn, Danny Trejo, Jeff Fahey and Sonny Chiba. It may lack the depth of something like The Usual Suspects, but it still finds thrills, laughs and twists in its tight and fun little story.
Extras: Documentary, alternate scenes, outtakes, fake commercials, music video, interviews, video diaries, image gallery, commentaries Also available on DVD.
Pitch: Take home the soon to be Best Picture winner before next week’s Oscars…
Why Buy? The Iranian hostage crisis that began in 1979 was an event followed closely around the world, but there was one part of the story that wouldn’t become fully known until decades later. A splinter group of American hostages were rescued through an ingenious and incredibly lucky combination of smarts, creativity and Canadian kindness.
Ben Affleck’s third film as director is his best yet and turns a secret slice of history into an incredibly exciting and suspenseful film about the power of movies to change lives in some unexpected ways, and about the ability of members of our government to accomplish things with their hearts and minds instead of with drones. The film plays fast and loose with some of the facts in service of story and suspense, and the resulting picture is better for it. Thrilling, funny, smart and suspenseful, the movie is pure entertainment. A cast that includes Alan Arkin, Kyle Chandler, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Scoot McNairy, Chris Messina and more just makes it even better.
[Extras: Picture in picture, featurettes commentary]
Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season
Pitch: The king is dead, long live Kong Joffr ‐ goddammit…
Why Buy? The kingdom of Westeros is in a period of transition as a vile twat sits atop the throne ruling with impunity as his wicked (and wickedly hot) mother (Lena Headey) whispers in his ear and rulers across the land break into factions fighting for control. As if that wasn’t enough for one continent to face, the Night’s Watch is facing new threats beyond the wall, the adorably vengeful Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is raising dragon triplets and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is being forced to become a better man.
The second season of HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s bestselling fantasy series continues to grow a world and a cast of characters that transport viewers with drama, action, mystery and more. It’s an engrossing series that finds magic even in the natural world thanks to fantastic performers, strong writing and a beautiful set design captured by rich cinematography. HBO enhances the experience immensely with a home release packed with informative and addictive addendums to help follow the multiple stories and characters.
[Extras: Featurettes, interviews, commentaries, episode guide, interactive references]
Pitch: Twenty-five years in VHS jail is a pretty steep sentence…
Why Buy? An abandoned prison is being re-opened with an ex-guard as warden (Lane Smith), but as he and his initial handful of prisoners work to finish renovating the dilapidated buildings, strange events begin to plague their efforts. And by strange, I mean deadly because prisoners and guards start dying gruesome deaths at the hands of some spectral force.
Renny Harlin’s American debut had a brief theatrical run in 1988 before landing on VHS, but it never hit DVD (or Blu-ray) until now. That’s a shame as the movie is a solid little horror film that balances strong, claustrophobic cinematography with some twisted practical gore effects. We also get Viggo Mortensen in his first leading role, and he more than holds his own against the fantastic Smith. Scream Factory’s remastered image is the best the movie has ever looked, and when paired with a fun and informative making-of doc this becomes another winner from the budding genre label.
Extras: Commentary, making of, image gallery, script pdf
Pitch: He said he’d be back. We just didn’t know he meant again on Blu-ray…
Why Buy? Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is just another waitress in L.A., but what she doesn’t know is that she’s also going to birth a boy who grows up to lead the resistance against the machines that rise and threaten all of humanity. She learns soon enough though when a humanoid cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to kill her and a human (Michael Biehn) is sent back to save her.
James Cameron’s sequel remains the franchise’s high point, but his original is still a fun and exciting sci-fi-themed B-movie. The action, ideas and script are simply entertaining in their execution, and while little wow factor remains it’s a nice reminder of the Cameron who once cared about story. The film has been on Blu before, but MGM’s newly remastered picture looks better than it ever has before. It’s a definite buy if you don’t already own it and a probable one if you do.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes]
The Thief of Bagdad
Pitch: “Yo, Rugman! Haven’t seen you in a few millennia. Give me some tassel…”
Why Buy? A tale of the Arabian Nights comes to life silent film-style as a limber and charismatic thief named Ahmed (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) woos a princess’ heart away from her villainous husband-to-be. The classic film is newly restored from 35mm negatives and scored by Carl Davis and The Philharmonic Orchestra.
The story here should be familiar to just about anyone, but there’s real joy in watching a production from 1924 filled with such personality, fun and impressive visuals. The sets and sound stages designed by William Cameron Menzies are incredible in their scope and detail and the old-school effects still manage to impress. Fairbanks is still clearly full of himself, but the ego fits the character and story, making for a wildly entertaining silent performance.
[Extras: Commentary, featurette]
Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome
Pitch: You know it’s the “Never before seen unrated and uncut version” because there’s a boob shot in the co-ed showers…
Why Rent? William Adama (Luke Pasqualino) is a pilot in humanity’s war against the Cylon menace, and he’s overjoyed to learn that he’s been assigned to the Galactica. He’s less thrilled though when his first mission sees him piloting a ship other than a viper and essentially acting as a delivery driver. That simple mission hides a secret however, and soon he’s embroiled in a life or death struggle beyond his expectations.
Ronald Moore’s groundbreaking and phenomenal series is over, but Syfy continues to milk the golden goose (?) with mixed results. Odds are that fans of the show will find some enjoyment with this prequel to the characters and events we came to love on a weekly basis, and that affection for the series is the movie’s greatest strength. To be sure, there are some fun and cool elements here, but a dodgy script and a clearly limited budget keep it just okay.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, featurette]
Pitch: For a movie called For Ellen, Ellen sure does take her time before finally showing up…
Why Rent? Joby Taylor (Paul Dano) is a deadbeat dad with a silly name who threw away his wife and daughter in pursuit of a rock ’n’ roll dream, but that success remains an unattained illusion. He returns home to finalize his divorce but finds himself struggling with saying goodbye, and it becomes even more difficult when he gets to spend two hours with the daughter he doesn’t even know.
Dano is a particular kind of actor, one who works best in supporting roles as opposed to lead ones, but he does a fine job here as a man whose life just never went where he wanted and hoped it would. Writer/director So Yong Kim’s film is a quiet, thoughtful and sad look at a wake-up call that may have come too late. Jon Heder and Jena Malone co-star, but while the latter has barely a few minutes of screen time it’s the former who impresses with an understated and equally sad performance.
[Extras: Behind the scene]
Pitch: Somewhere between The Whistleblower and The Informant on the laugh scale…
Why Rent? Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) is let go by his tobacco company employer, and when the opportunity arises to screw them back he spills devastating secrets to a 60 Minutes producer (Al Pacino). The company pulls out all the stops to discredit Wigand before his information damages their business.
Michael Mann brought this dramatic true story to the screen and to seven Academy Award nominations, and it’s headed up by two incredible lead performances. The story is a harrowing and frustrating affair that explores just how far of a reach corporations now have in our society. At 157 minutes it’s also super long.
Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes
Pitch: Relax, it’s not what you think…
Why Rent? ABC’s detective series ran from 1958 to 1963, and like creator Stirling Silliphant’s later (and better) series Route 66 it found success with stories that focused on guest stars instead of the recurring cast. The other distinction of the show was its interest in the motivations and stories of the criminals.
Rather than being a seasonal release, this collection contains twenty episodes featuring early appearances by actors and actresses who would later go to find immense stardom. Some of the guest stars include Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Hopper, Robert Redford, William Shatner and Martin Sheen. The eps are a mixed bag quality-wise, but they’re fun watches thanks to the talent involved.
Pitch: Bugs go in, they fornicate, and more come out. It’s pretty simple really…
Why Rent? A small town discovers a growing bug problem in the form of carnivorous cockroaches, and things go downhill from there. The ubiquitous little bastards have been genetically modified by a local business resulting in a formidable foe that would make even the Orkin man soil his pants.
This fun and gory slice of ’80s horror mixes the inherent creepiness of roaches with some creatively wonderful practical effects resulting in an entertaining genre flick. The end borrows liberally from David Cronenberg’s The Fly, but it does so without any of that films icky emotional weight. Instead this is just pure monster horror. Sadly, the image offered on the cover never actually happens.
Pitch: They were originally going to call it Before Midnight…
Why Rent? Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is a true crime writer struggling to return to the bestseller lists, but when he moves his family to a house recently visited by murder and tragedy he awakens a nightmare. He discovers a box of 8mm home movies in the attic featuring families having fun before being sadistically murdered, and the more he investigates the closer he gets to joining them.
The film opens with an incredibly disturbing image and follows through with a few more before the halfway point as Scott Derrickson manages some incredibly creepy visuals. The problems arise in the third act though when the movie is forced to explain itself and reveals the fantastic setup has a pretty silly explanation. The frustrations begin to outweigh the scares as the film reaches its conclusion, but the first two thirds are still plenty terrifying and make the movie worth a watch.
[Extras: Commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes] Also available on DVD.
Pitch: It’s the French Tears of the Sun! No, seriously, it’s basically Tears of the Sun in French…
Why Rent? When a French journalist (Diane Kruger) is abducted by the Taliban in Afghanistan her government sends in a special military unit to rescue her. The team, led by Djimon Hounsou, are separated from their extraction point and are forced to trek across the rural badlands with dozens of bad guys on their tail.
This is a borderline Rent/Avoid, but the deciding factor really comes down to how much you love military action. There are some exciting and well choreographed skirmishes here, so action junkies will want to check it out, but the rest of you may want to give it a pass. None of the characters really gel to the point that audiences will find themselves affected by their fate, and the death toll on the good guys’ side makes them seem decidedly not special.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, featurette] Also available on Blu-ray.
TerrorVision/The Video Dead
Pitch: The boob tube has never been deadlier…
Why Rent? Two forgotten ’80s horror movies find new life on Blu-ray from Scream Factory in this TV set-themed double feature. First up is TerrorVision which envisions an alien takeover attempted via satellite dish when an intergalactic monster is beamed into a family’s TV and into their lives. Next is The Video Dead which sees a supernaturally-tinged TV set that allows onscreen monsters (and the occasional supposedly sexy lady) to enter the real world.
It’s no great crime that either of these movies have been lost for so long as neither is particularly good. The second one in particular is simply too cheap and uninteresting in its story or presentation. Ted Nicolaou’s TerrorVision is a bit of a strange bird, though, and it warrants a watch from fans of all things weird thanks to its mix of the absurd and the flat-out crazy. It’s pretty fun if you’re in a particularly loose and forgiving mood.
[Extras: Commentaries, making of, interviews, image galleries]
Pitch: Imagine, if you will, The Blind Side. Now imagine it with more heart and less Bullock…
Why Rent? The Manassas Tigers are a Memphis, TN football team who hadn’t reached the playoffs in over 100 years, and the filmmakers followed their efforts in 2009 to reverse that depressing trend. The broad look at the team is narrowed to focus on Coach Bill Courtney and three of his underprivileged players.
Inspirational sports stories are nothing new, and while this documentary doesn’t break new ground it succeeds at finding the emotional sweet spot amidst the rough and tumble world of high school football. Whether or not you care about sports makes little difference as this ultimately is a human story on every level.
[Extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, trailer, making of] Also available on Blu-ray.
Pitch: 4 times boring is still boring…
Why Avoid? Marcus Nang (Will Yun Lee) meets up with a few of his fellow assassins (including Miguel Ferrer) in a Hong Kong hotel room, but instead of a playful reunion he finds the trio has a surprise in store for him. It seems he has some information they’re after, and they’re not planning on asking nicely for very long.
The setup here is a solid basis for some twisted scripting and engaging violence, but neither of those things ever arrive. The story never becomes all that interesting thanks in part to some bland characters, and the inevitable rough stuff is presented without any real sense of style or excitement. There’s a lot of talking too, which is fine when the dialogue is sharply written and/or entertaining, but again the film offers neither.
Skip it and watch Sushi Girl instead.
Pitch: A b&w student film in Russian? Err…
Why Avoid? The life of an unloved teen in the harsh reality of modern-day urban Russia is the focus of this intensely personal debut film. The unnamed boy is abused emotionally at home and physically at school, but when he’s sent to a tough reform school the stronger, better self of his imagination makes a break for the real world culminating in a bloody revolution against authority.
It was bound to happen eventually. Artsploitation Films is a new label focusing on lesser-seen world cinema, but while their first three selections have been fantastic finds the fourth entry is an annoying dud. Director Alexander Vartanov’s debut is a disjointed mess with an absent narrative and editing style that leaves viewers with a lead character we know little and care less about. Nothing here engages.
[Extras: Trailer, making of, interviews, deleted scene, booklet]
Skip it and watch Lord of the Flies instead.
Pitch: Couldn’t have said it better myself…
Why Avoid? Four pseudo friends, essentially two couples including two exes, head to a rural home for what should have been a relaxing vacation, but instead of fun they find terror. It seems the house is near a large, scary tree that has been involved in more than a few suicides over the years, and as the hours pass the quartet finds themselves on the brink of joining the deceased.
This is yet another entry in the low-budget, shakicam-style horror film category, and it features more than a few of the genre’s worst hallmarks. The camera and editing annoy more than thrill, the characters grind the nerves and long periods of dullness must be endured before something goes bump in the night. One or two effective scenes dot the film, but they’re not worth sitting through the familiar slog.
[Extras: Behind the scene]
Skip it and watch Atrocious instead.
Lake Placid: The Final Chapter
Pitch: For the 50th time, CGI is never scary…
Why Avoid? The deadly crocodiles have been “sealed away” in a secluded preserve and allowed to continue growing, but for some reason no one sees this as a potential problem. At least they don’t until a high school swim team (filled with “actors” in their late twenties) somehow ends up picnicking and fornicating on the infested lake.
Remember the original Lake Placid? It was an unassuming horror comedy that managed real laughs alongside some fun thrills and did it all with real actors to boot! This third entry trades all of that for a paint by numbers script and CGI crocs/blood that appear to have been created with MS Paint. It’s not even dumb fun.
Skip it and watch Rogue instead.
Pitch: The question of whose package is bigger begins now…
Why Avoid? Tommy Wick (Steve Austin) is a war vet turned bouncer for a Seattle nightclub that also acts as a mob front. He’s tasked with a simple delivery, but as with most things in the world of direct to DVD action, the job doesn’t go off without a hitch. In this case the trouble Wick runs into starts with a bevy of armed thugs and ends with a hulking criminal known as The German (Dolph Lundgren).
You don’t come to a Steve Austin film for acting class, and by that same token you don’t pick up a direct to DVD action flick for the plot or script. That leaves you with expectations of fun and/or exciting action, but sadly neither of those outcomes are present here. The gun play is generic, the fight sequences are choreographed and executed poorly and Lundgren uses a stunt double for any movement other than talking.
Skip it and watch Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Adventure Time: Fionna & Cake
Bath Salt Zombies
Mary Mary Bloody Mary 3D
North Sea Texas
On the Waterfront (Criterion)
Top Gun 3D