‘A Coffee in Berlin,’ ‘A Letter to Momo’ and ‘Snowpiercer’ Are the Best New DVD/Blu Releases of the Week
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A duel between magicians leaves one man transformed into a bird in The Raven. An undertaker takes matters into his own hands in an effort to increase business in The Comedy of Terrors. A widower finds new love complicated by an obsession with his dead wife in The Tomb of Ligeia. A scientist is the last normal human alive after a plague turns others into vampire-like creatures in The Last Man on Earth. The abominable Dr.Phibes rises again in Dr. Phibes Rises Again. The son of the first film’s scientist begins some experiments of his own in The Return of the Fly. A millionaire offers a cash reward to five people if they’re willing and able to spend a nigh tin his home in House on Haunted Hill.
Vincent Price is a genre legend, and his output is filled with horror classics. Scream Factory’s second collection of his work brings together seven films highlighting Price’s dramatic, horrific and (in a couple instances) comedic chops. Everyone will have their own favorites among the collection, but for me The Last Man on Earth, House on Haunted Hill and The Raven are the real stand outs.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Introductions, featurettes, commentaries, trailers]
Niko woke up feeling pretty good, but he’s not far into the morning before his day takes a serious turn for the worse when his girlfriend dumps him, his father cuts off his financial aid and he’s having zero luck finding a decent cup of coffee. Determined to salvage things he sets about interacting with friends and strangers alike leading to some long overdue revelations about his life.
You’d be right to be tentative about a black and white German film, but writer/director Jan Ole Gerster delivers a fun, spry and lively look at the international truths of adulthood. An energetic jazz score pairs beautifully with the sharp photography, but in addition to the film’s look and sound it’s damn fine comedy filled with dialogue and observations that earn legitimate laughs. Less plot oriented and more of a character piece, the film is a wise and entertaining experience.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, outtakes, deleted scenes, casting tapes]
La Dolce Vita
The historical irony of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita ‐ his infamous portrait of celebrity society in postwar Rome as an endless escapade of parties and sex ‐ is that it started a lasting culture that fetishized hip, modern Italy in terms ranging from fashion to cuisine to language (it gave us the word “paparazzi”) that treated Hollywood and the arthouse as part of the same shared machine of fame. And the surface of Fellini’s 1960 landmark move away from neo-realism magnetically portrays this culture, with amazing fashion and beautiful people framed within impeccable composition.
What is less remembered about La Dolce Vita itself is what a dark, challenging film it is, and how deliberately it exhausts the surface sheen of Rome’s sweet life over its three episodic hours until its drifting protagonist, entertainment journalist Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), erupts in a fury of misogyny in the face of a seemingly beautiful life that is, at its core, empty. One of the slyest satires of the modern arthouse canon,La Dolce Vita is both inviting and alienating, a film that draws you in and leaves you cold, betraying an ambivalent relationship with the glamour and the selfishness of the sweet life. It’s also a goddamn masterpiece.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New and archival interviews with assistant director Lina Wertmuller, scholar David Forgacs, journalist Antonello Sarno, Fellini, and Mastroianni; ephemera collection; video essay; illustrated booklet with essay by Gary Giddins]
The Joseon Dynasty is winding down, but the daily atrocities continue as the ruling class subjects the people to a harsh rule where food is scarce and punishment is extreme. A band of outlaws rises up to rob from the rich and give to the poor, and the newest member of their ranks comes with a personal vendetta after his mother and sister are murdered by a local lord.
Period action films from the East are a risky and uneven venture as too frequently they devolve into convoluted political dramas, but while Kundo features a fairly large number of speaking roles the film remains clearly plotted and populated. This is especially impressive as it runs well over two hours. There are class struggles on display here, but the core of the film is more in line with a spaghetti western ‐ albeit one with fantastically choreographed fight scenes ‐ as the outlaws become the heroes against an authority out of control, and all of it’s set to a rousing and addictive score. As is common in Korean cinema, the film manages to walk a fine line with its sense of humor and highly dramatic beats, and the result is an entertaining ride into a bloody past.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Momo and her mother have moved to a remote island after the death of Momo’s father in the hopes of starting a new life, but the guilt she feels at having fought with him before his death is compounded by an unfinished letter he was writing to her. Her emotional downturn gets an uplift by the discovery of three spirit goblins in her attic who lead her on an adventure towards the truth of her parents’ love.
This is a delightful Japanese animated movie that resembles in some ways the much more high profile Spirited Away as its young female protagonist spends time with spirits both whimsical and frightening. It’s playful and soulful in equal measure, and the animation is as beautiful as you could hope. Some of the comedy is a bit too broad, but most of the humor lands with wit and a smile, and the characters exhibit more humanity and personality than “cartoons” normally do.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, trailer]
Dr. Samantha Ryan (Amanda Burton) is a forensic pathologist for the city of Cambridge, but while no one questions her skills she finds her methods under fire on a regular basis from the police department. She’s back in town to teach at the academy, and she’s not shy about speaking her mind in an effort to do her job and help the victims. The first season features four feature-length episodes.
Ryan is basically Quincy, M.E. with a vagina and a British accent, and while there have been plenty of shows about the use of forensics in solving crimes this UK series premiered in 1996 and immediately dove head first into the gritty and graphic lives and deaths around town. Even then the show went further than today’s networks do, but it’s not about the shock value as the acting and writing are compelling and impressive throughout.
[DVD extras: None]
The threat of global warming leads to a radical cure that leaves the earth frozen and mostly devoid of life. The exception are the people riding aboard the Snowpiercer, a futuristic train that hurtles around the globe with the upper class separated from the lower with all manner of accommodations in between. Those at the back of the train (including Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer) rebel and lead a charge toward the engine and their destiny.
Director Bong Joon-ho’s latest is a stylish action/sci-fi hybrid packed with eye-catching visuals, fantastically crafted action sequences and a dark sense of humor, and its collective whole is a fun watch… but it’s also Bong’s weakest film on the merits of its script and failed world building. The train layout makes zero sense and exists solely as metaphor, and the ending is more than a little dumb. That doesn’t mean it isn’t an entertaining ride though.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurettes]
A man enjoying the rural life with his family high up in the mountains of Austria (Italy?) is gunned down by locals after trying to avenge his wife’s assault, and years later she dies as well leaving behind their teenage daughter and preteen son. When the girl is assaulted by some of the locals ‐ it’s a rapey village apparently ‐ she and her brother are forced to fight for their lives. This is a gorgeously-shot film, but while it avoids showing the assaults in a graphic way the film can’t escape an exploitative undertone that doesn’t fit the photography. The teenager strips down early on, thus enticing her first assault (yes, first), but having her get naked again in the final twenty minutes is gratuitous. And all that aside, the revenge half of this pretty rape/revenge film is severely lacking in general.
[DVD extras: None]
Zach’s (Dane DeHaan) an emotional wreck after his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza) dies suddenly, but he gets a reprieve when he discovers that she’s somehow come back to life again. Unfortunately her rebirth comes with an eating disorder of the flesh-eating variety, and now he has to find a way to end things once and for all. Laughs and comedic scares work together to tell what amounts to a story about the difficulty of letting go of a relationship, and while Plaza is the bigger name this is DeHaan’s show all the way.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, deleted scenes]
Cole (Gary Daniels) has a habit of pushing too far and too hard in his fight against the bad guys, but when his ex-wife is abducted by a Mexican cartel he pulls out all the stops in his search for her. A movie like this lives and breathes on the quality of its action, but while Daniels seems capable enough the action sequences here are tepid at best. The opening foot chase is ridiculously sad ‐ some foot-high objects are tossed into Gary’s path and instead of jumping over them he dives and rolls, for no discernible reason ‐ and the subsequent gunfights are unimaginative and repetitive.
[DVD extras: None]
It’s once again time for the annual Purge ‐ a once per year event where (almost) all crime is legal up to and including murder ‐ and when a handful of folks are caught outside without a plan they find rescue in an unlikely savior (Frank Grillo). While the first film kept itself contained in one house the sequel opens things up and explores what’s happening outside those walls, and it’s a smart move. The execution is a bit lacking though as it does little with the opportunity, but we’re still treated to a great turn by Grillo and some fun action set-pieces.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurette]
A young woman suffering from multiple personalities is assigned to a halfway house populated by other troubled ladies, but her arrival coincides with a rash of suspicious suicides. As she comes closer to being cured she also discovers something unexpected hiding within her. This comic book adaptation does a fine job world building ‐ it’s a small, dark world, but still a unique world ‐ and manages some impressive visuals along the way, but it doesn’t quite engage fully. The cast is fun though and offers a steady stream of recognizable faces in odd roles including Michelle Trachtenberg, Eliza Dushku, Sasha Grey, Gina Gershon, Billy Campbell, Garret Dillahunt and Michael Imperioli.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
A deranged killer’s body is transported to the city morgue, and when he decides to no longer be dead he sets about murdering a whole new batch of people. This sequel benefits from two solid female leads (Danielle Harris, Katharine Isabelle) and sharp direction by the Soska sisters, but the script fails to elevate it above typical slasher fare.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
A married couple (Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz) try to fix their sex life by recording their hanky business on an iPad, but poor planning, idiocy and a complete misunderstanding of how technology works results in their video being uploaded to several other devices. This results in supposedly funny shenanigans as they try to erase the evidence. On the bright side, Seth MacFarlane can rest easy knowing he no longer made the worst and least funny studio comedy of 2014.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, bloopers, deleted scenes]
A military base in the Colombian mountains goes dark, and a squad is sent in to investigate and restore communications. They discover a base littered with the bodies of dead soldiers and a mute woman chained and imprisoned behind a wall, but far worse is just around the corner. This Colombian horror film is loaded with atmosphere, but it’s also bogged down by a script that meanders its way along with far more promise than delivery. What’s next is always more interesting than what’s now, and that leads to a somewhat unsatisfying finale.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, trailer]
Danny has inherited a hotel/spa located deep in the woods, so he heads out there to see the place with a few friends in tow. Unfortunately for them the relatives he didn’t even know about share a family secret that involves inbreeding, cannibalism and a terrible fashion sense. Kudos to the franchise for moving the story in a mildly different direction this time out ‐ and for moving the inbred hillbillies beyond their desire for rape ‐ but while the setup is new everything that follows is more of the same. We still get gory kills, flannel-wearing weirdos and an increasing interest in sex scenes, but it’s just not enough to justify this seemingly unkillable series.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and/or review material was unavailable:
Annie Oakley: The Complete Series
La Dolce Vita (Criterion)
Earth to Echo
F for Fake (Criterion)
The Fluffy Movie
For a Woman
The Last Sentence
Los Angeles Plays Itself
Mad Men: The Final Season Part 1
The Naked Face
Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series
Silent Witness: The Complete Season Seventeen
The Soul Man: The Complete Second Season
Square Pegs: The Complete Series
To All a Goodnight
Related Topics: Home Video