Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
Wake in Fright
John Grant (Gary Bond) is a civilized man doing a stint as a schoolteacher in the Australian outback, but trouble arises when he tries to head home to Sydney and never quite makes it. His layover in a small, forgotten town leads to new friends and a night or two (or three) of drunken debauchery, gambling and animal cruelty.
This lost then found again classic of Australian cinema is a dread-filled descent into a sun-baked and alcohol-fueled hell. Bond does a fine and frightening job moving from responsible man to lost soul, but it’s Donald Pleasance who stands out as a disreputable doctor with one foot in the crazy house. Director Ted Kotcheff captures deranged desolation to perfection and marks ’70s Australia one of the most terrifying places on earth. That said, the kangaroo hunt is barbaric and painful to watch (or even to fast-forward through). Also available on DVD. [Extras: Commentary, featurettes, obituary, trailers, 28-page booklet]
Jackie Chan Double Feature: Crime Story & The Protector
Pitch: Jackie Chan is quickly becoming the Mel Gibson of China…
Why Buy? Shout! Factory starts their Jackie Chan collection with this double feature of the star’s mid-level output. Crime Story sees Chan busting heads while investigating a kidnapping, and The Protector (his first Hollywood leading role) casts him as an NYC detective (?) who heads to Hong Kong with his partner (Danny Aiello) to find a kidnapped woman.
Neither of these films seem very highly regarded among his base, possibly because both feature Chan in super serious mode, but they’re solid action pics with some truly entertaining fight scenes. Both movies come with some entertaining extras too, but the biggest one is Chan’s own cut of The Protector which is shorter but adds some additional fights. Of course, he removes the copious nudity from director James Glickenhaus’ version in the process, but still… more action! Also available on DVD. [Extras: Interviews, deleted scenes, trailer, featurette, Hong Kong cut of The Protector]
Farewell, My Queen
Pitch: So. Much. Beauty…
Why Rent? Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) lives a life of unparalleled luxury, and one (Léa Seydoux) of her ladies-in-waiting wants very much to be an even bigger part of it. History is on neither woman’s side though as the revolution comes calling for both of their hides.
Director Benoit Jacquot’s sumptuous period film is equal parts historical drama, romance and character study, and it’s engaging across the board. It’s a beautiful-looking film too with gorgeous cinematography and three true beauties in front of the camera. Kruger and Seydoux are joined by the equally gorgeous Virginie Ledoyen, and in addition to being real knockouts the three are fantastic actors too. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Interviews, trailer]
I Am Bruce Lee
Pitch: It’s interesting seeing people like Ed O’Neill talking not as an actor, but as a martial artist…
Why Rent? The life and times of Bruce Lee are explored through clips, archival footage and interviews with those who knew him and those who love him. Lee has been dead for forty years, but there’s a reason he’s as popular now as he ever was.
Lee’s wife Linda and daughter Shannon head up an eclectic roster of people more than happy to discuss their love, interest and admiration of the talented multi-hyphenate in this engaging and enlightening doc. I had no clue he was a child actor who starred in dozens of Hong Kong films, but that’s far from the only thing I learned here. The debate over whether or not Lee is the “father of MMA” is oddly fascinating. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Personal films, featurettes, trailer, audition]
Life’s Too Short: The Complete First Season
Pitch: Willow can be a bit of a dick…
Why Rent? Times are tough for Warwick Davis, star of one or two blockbusters and more than a few forgettable films too, but the man has a plan to get back on top. Unfortunately (for him), it involves pestering Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant on a daily basis.
I say it’s unfortunate for him because it’s often pretty damn hilarious for the rest of us. Be forewarned though, it’s the kind of humor Gervais mined previously in Extras and to a lesser degree in The Office. It’s awkward and painful to watch as Davis gets himself into wince-worthy situations, but if those don’t entertain you the very funny guest appearances by folks like Liam Neeson, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter most certainly will. [Extras: Making of, behind the scenes, deleted scenes, outtakes]
Pitch: God hates movie makeup artists…
Why Rent? The improbably named Green Graves (Bret Harrison) is a young man stuck in ’80s Alabama with dreams of heading to Hollywood as a special effects makeup artist. He faces resistance in the form of an abusive step-father, a group of religious wackos fearful of his scary imagery and a girlfriend (Laura Prepon) whose past may be even more haunting.
This is a heartfelt and pure semi-autobiographical film from a successful effects artist, but the characters are all so remarkably flat, stereotypical and one-note. Still, writer/director Robert Hall wears his heart on his sleeve, and that’s worth something. [Extras: Extended cut, featurettes, commentaries, trailer, outtakes, deleted scenes, music video]
Pitch: There’s an interesting idea in here somewhere, I think…
Why Avoid? In the very near future corporations have become more powerful than they are now, and their marketing has become even more ubiquitous. Their insidious efforts to lull consumers have moved beyond simple billboards to something both invasive and fattening, and Leelee Sobieski’s boyfriend isn’t having any of it.
This is an odd little sci-fi flick that earns some points for its commitment to an idea, but it’s not enough to warrant a watch. As crazy as the third act is, and believe me when I say it’s a bit nuts, the first hour drags along with some dull and incredibly poor writing. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Commentary, trailers]
Skip it and watch The Informant instead.
Pitch: 90 minutes of red herrings in a 97 minute movie…
Why Avoid? Sylvia is a high school student with a mildly scarred past looking for love in a new town, but when bad boy Lucas takes an interest in her the world becomes a more interesting place. It also becomes far more dangerous one when the mystery of a recently missing girl strikes close to home.
There’s nothing wrong with a little misdirection in a whodunnit-type mystery, but this little thriller is an example of having way too much of it. Three different characters are offered up as serious suspects ad nauseum, but it detracts from the story and legitimate character depth. More time spent on both of those areas would have benefited the film greatly and possibly made it worthwhile. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Featurettes]
Skip it and watch Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me instead.
Pitch: Free tip for filmmakers: we can see the sudden semi trucks in the intersection coming a mile away, and so should the car’s driver…
Why Avoid? Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his daughters pick up a few things at a yard sale including a strange, wooden box that soon takes over the youngest girl’s life. She grows sullen and violent, and Clyde is forced to use his mad Google skills to discover the box’s frightening history before it’s too late and she converts to Judaism.
The whole ‘based on true story’ tag at the beginning of horror films has gotten out of hand. The inanimate box uses telekinesis to toss people and things around, the girl becomes a human GPS system to find it and fingers come out of a throat at one point too. Stupidity aside, the movie is never frightening. The scares are obvious, and as silly as it all is, it’s never quite silly enough to warrant even an ironic enjoyment. Also available on DVD. [Extras: Commentaries, featurette, trailer]
Skip it and watch The Unborn instead. (It’s still bad, but at least it’s funny.)
To Rome with Love
Pitch: Surprising seeing so much infidelity in a Woody Allen film…
Why Avoid? The city of Rome is home to many stories involving both visitors and the people who live there. One couple meets, falls in love and brings their parents together to announce a wedding, another pair of newlyweds get separated and have amorous adventures apart, an Italian nobody becomes a cause celeb for no apparent reason and a young American expatriate couple is visited by temptation in the form of Ellen Page. (Not a typo.)
Look, I was no fan of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, but that one at least had its charms in Owen Wilson’s nightly jaunts. This mish-mash of stories and characters lacks a single interesting person or turn of events. Roberto Benigni and Alec Baldwin come closest, but the former’s gets old and the latter’s is part of the terrible Jesse Eisenberg bit. Because seriously… do you buy anyone dumping Greta Gerwig for Ellen Page? Also available on DVD. [Extras: Featurette]
Skip it and watch Gladiator instead.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:
30 Nights of Paranormal Activity with the Devil Inside the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
5 Broken Cameras
The Chicago 8
The Man Who Knew Too Much (Criterion)
Men of a Certain Age: The Complete Second Season
Merlin: The Complete Fourth Season
The Tin Drum (Criterion)
Won’t Back Down