Plus 17 More New Releases to Watch This Week on Blu-ray/DVD!
Welcome to this week in home video! Click the title to buy a Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon and help support FSR in the process!
Pick of the Week
What is it? Two men wracked by grief head towards an inevitable meeting.
Why see it? Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a man whose wife and pregnant daughter perish in a plane crash, and Scoot McNairy is the air traffic controller whose actions led to the disaster. Both actors are terrific here as each face the grief of what they’ve lost and what they’ve done. The film wisely crafts the accident as a mix of poor decisions and outside issues meaning it’s not a clear case of the controller’s guilt, and the debate we have as viewers makes this less of a revenge tale than Schwarzenegger’s presence might suggest. It’s an engrossing and somber film that builds to an unexpected conclusion that lands with real power.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews]
The Ballad of Cable Hogue [Warner Archive]
What is it? A tired and old cowboy watches as the Old West fades into yesterday.
Why see it? Sam Peckinpah takes a break from stories centered on violence and murder to train his eye on a cowboy (Jason Robards) whose unable to change with the times. The landscape he once knew is no more, and his desperate attempts to hang on to that life aren’t enough to keep the future from becoming the present. Robards is delightful as the crotchety optimist, and he’s supported by strong, fun turns from the likes of David Warner, Strother Martin, and Stella Stevens. It moves very much at its own pace as if to savor the world of “today” one last time, but tomorrow is inevitable. The ending has its own kind of sadly beautiful poetry marking this as one of Peckinpah’s best, albeit most unlikely, films.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette]
Bambi – Anniversary Edition
What is it? The prequel to Bambi Meets Godzilla.
Why see it? Walt Disney’s seventy-five year old classic remains as affecting as ever but looks even lovelier in HD. Sure it starts rough, but the majority of the film offers up an endearing tale of friendship and compassion, both things the world could use a lot more of (these days especially). This isn’t the film’s first Blu-ray release though and doesn’t appear to add anything new aside from the short, so if you already have an earlier release there’s no real reason to upgrade.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, short film]
A Cure for Wellness
What is it? A young man discovers madness, terror, and lots of naked octogenarians at a sanitarium in the Swiss Alps.
Why see it? Gore Verbinski makes attractive films, and that’s never been more the case than it is here. He blends natural surroundings, exquisite production design, and masterful CG to build a world we can’t help but feel a part of even as it pulls us into a nightmare. Dane DeHaan does solid work as the man who may be slowly losing his grip on reality, and Jason Isaacs delivers as the possibly twisted man in charge. It’s quite the experience and worth checking out despite being held back by a highly excessive running time. Verbinski lets his nightmare unfold with molasses-laced repetition which ultimately hurts some of the later reveals — we’ve had too much time to dwell on what’s being teased before us, and we come to know what to expect. It’s still visually sumptuous and thrilling though as the visuals are both haunting and spectacular.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scene, featurettes]
Dredd – 4K Ultra HD
What is it? Welcome to the future where the police are still judge, jury, and executioner only now it’s official.
Why see it? The popular UK comic character gets a second big-screen adaptation, and while many of us still have fun with Sylvester Stallone’s 1995 feature it’s this more recent one that gets everything right. Director Pete Travis crafts a Raid-like setup as Dredd (Karl Urban) and his partner (Olivia Thirlby) blast their way through a high-rise building filled with malicious, heavily-armed thugs led by a wickedly evil Lena Headey. It’s a hard-hitting and stylish ride all the way to the top complete with dark laughs and fun performances. It’s an ideal film to take in on a big 4K screen, and this new release is well worth the upgrade.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray, featurettes, motion comic prequel]
Ex Machina – 4K Ultra HD
What is it? An experiment in artificial intelligence goes off the rails in spectacularly dramatic, terrifying, and enticing ways.
Why see it? Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Sunshine) makes his directorial debut with this sci-fi stunner about what it means to be human. It’s intriguing, sexy, and constantly engaging in the interactions between the genius (Oscar Isaac), the acolyte (Domhnall Gleason), and the artificial being (Alicia Vikander) between them. There are thought-provoking ideas at play here, and the film takes them to some truly thrilling places. More relevant to this 4K re-release, the film is also a visual stunner with some truly mesmerizing and gorgeous cinematography and production design that absolutely pop in 4K. (Too be fair they’re still beautiful on Blu-ray too.) The cast looks pretty good too.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray, featurettes, Q&A]
What is it? A recently widowed dad with a hemophiliac son faces a new challenge when a blood transfusion turns the boy into a vampire.
Why see it? This is a tight little indie chiller that takes a new approach to a familiar genre element — vampires — and delivers some thrilling sequences along the way. A few hiccups aside the script is a smart look at one man’s problem, and lead James Martinez does great work as a father struggling against an incredibly heavy burden. The low budget unavoidably hurts the film in a few notable ways including the acting caliber of some supporting characters — the bully in particular — and the abruptness with which certain conclusions are made. Still though, at eighty minutes long the pros outweigh the cons here with a compelling story, some solid action/camera beats, and a strong lead performance.
[DVD extras: Introduction, making of, featurette, deleted scenes]
What is it? A woman takes revenge on a man by turning him into a woman which is apparently a punishment.
Why see it? Oh Walter Hill, what has time done to you? Hill’s made twenty one feature films, and just a small sampling of the great ones could include Southern Comfort, The Driver, The Warriors, and Streets of Fire. I could go on — he’s one of the greats. It’s been a couple of decades though since he’s released a terrific film, and his latest is easily one of his least successful endeavors in nearly every way. Michelle Rodriguez plays a “tough” hitman who’s transitioned into a woman by a mad doctor (Sigourney Weaver) before being forced to seek revenge as a chick. It’s… oddly funny when it shouldn’t be, and Rodriguez is impossible to take seriously with a fake beard/nose before the surgery. On the one hand it’s fertile ground for a legit exploitation film, but Hill instead takes it seriously and fairly restrained for the subject matter aside from Rodriguez’s nudity both before and after the operation.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]
Beauty and the Beast
What is it? A live-action version of a still-terrible story.
Why see it? Unlike the recent The Jungle Book, Disney’s redo of another of their animated classics follows the original pretty closely to the point of offering little (if anything) new. The CG and production design are strong, but none of it can hide the story which remains unappealing in its approach to romance, independence, and forgiveness. The love story is unfortunate at best — her options are a thuggish ex-soldier or a violent beast? — the supposedly wise sorceress doesn’t get well-deserved grief for cursing the jerk’s innocent staff, and the villagers who are out blindly for blood one second are welcomed back as friends the next? Lame. To be clear, these same issues exist in the animated version, but it’s harder to dismiss them with flesh and blood characters in the mix.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
Don’t Knock Twice [Scream Factory]
What is it? A pair of teens flaunt this very clear instruction.
Why see it? There are plenty of moments to love in this new chiller from the director of the underseen The Machine, but far too many of them come in the back half. There’s a lot of drag getting there as we’re inundated with cheap jump scares, sound cues, and utter darkness before the story and characters pick up in exciting ways. Katee Sackhoff and Lucy Boynton headline, and both do good work. Their presence plus the film’s second half make it worth a watch, but there’s a lot of generic genre meh to wade through first. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray is a Walmart exclusive release with a wider one presumably to follow at some point.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of]
What is it? Four friends struggle with life as teenagers in Harlem.
Why see it? Ernest Dickerson’s directorial debut is surprisingly more of an action/thriller than a comedic drama despite its humorous and dramatic first act. Once the character played by Tupac Shakur takes his murderous plunge it becomes a game of cat and mouse as deaths pile up. The more character oriented beats quickly feel slightly out of place against that backdrop, but Omar Epps as the lead does good work holding our attention through his character’s musical endeavors. Those narrative bumps aside, the film is an energetic tale with propulsive, beat-heavy soundtrack. This 25th anniversary release adds new special features.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, making of, featurettes]
Kill ‘Em All
What is it? Jean-Claude Van Damme kills several, but not nearly all of ’em.
Why see it? Van Damme belongs in the group of past action stars (like Steven Seagal) who keeps churning them out despite the drastically diminished returns. His latest continues that sad decline with a horrifically structured story about a gunfight that spills over into a hospital. The opening credits show a “highlight” reel of all the action to come, and once the film starts proper it’s in the form of a witness recalling the story to the world’s least convincing FBI agents (Peter Stormare, Maria Conchita Alonso). It jumps around sloppily in time and is an absolute mess. The action could have saved it, but it’s an atrocious mess of poorly edited fights designed mostly to hide Van Damme’s stunt double.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
The Last Word
What is it? A successful woman decides to rewrite her life story starting with the way people see her.
Why see it? Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried headline this feel-good comedy about an ornery woman forced to see the error of her ways, and they’re both fine. There’s nothing that really stands out here though as the story takes a familiar arc with pleasant-enough characters along for the ride. Director Mark Pellington’s high points remain Arlington Road, The Mothman Prophecies, and I Melt With You (yeah I said it), and hopefully someday he’ll leave these generic dramas behind and return to more original fare like those other titles.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? A Chinese anti-drug task force brings the war to the dealers and the streets.
Why see it? There’s not much in the way of big name talents on the screen here, but director Dante Lam is a fairly reliable filmmaker in the action genre. He proves that once again with this massive ensemble piece that moves the modern day action from country to country and from rural battlefields to populated city centers. It’s convoluted as all hell at times, but that’s due in part to the film’s habit of unloading exposition in brief pauses between epic action beats. Those beats keep the film moving at a fast clip, and while you won’t always know why a clash begins you’ll always be happy that it did.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Sky on Fire
What is it? A possible cure for cancer leads to a battle between interests pure, corrupt, and indifferent.
Why see it? Ringo Lam (like the unrelated Lam above) is no stranger to highly entertaining action/suspense films including City on Fire, Full Contact, and Wild City. His latest continues the trend of orchestrating and capturing stellar gun battles and car chases, but it suffers more than usual when the action slows down. The core plot is fine, but the film is ceaseless in its layering in of subplots and new characters to the point that the central urgency quickly wanes. The film’s still worth a watch for Lam’s action-oriented eye, but be prepared for the convoluted downtime.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? A good father agrees to go undercover with bad guys in order to help his son.
Why see it? Dwayne Johnson is an engaging physical presence, both as an action star and as a comedic actor. His best films encourage both halves of his persona, but sometimes one is all you need. This 2012 feature relies solely on the former, and it delivers some competent action beats along the way. It’s not all that memorable in general though, and that’s part of what makes it an odd choice for this 4K re-release. Unlike the two titles above Snitch has little to stand out on the visual front meaning an already unlikely re-watch is no more likely in sharper HD.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray, making of, commentary, deleted scenes]
A United Kingdom
What is it? The true story of a boundary-crossing love.
Why see it? David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike are the only real reasons you should need to give this romantic drama a spin as both are fantastic actors doing strong work here as the young king of Botswana and the white British woman who married him. It’s a good, engaging tale beyond them too, and while the general story is familiar — the recent Loving tread the similar ground of a mixed race couple facing ignorance and hatred across the years — the power of the performances and production give it its own life. It’s a good, respectable film, and while that may not sound like praise it’s more than a lot of films can claim.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurettes]
Where the Buffalo Roam [Shout Select]
What is it? Some days in the life of Hunter S. Thompson.
Why see it? Bill Murray and Peter Boyle are the main reasons to watch this 1980 flick, but an appreciation of Thompson’s personality will certainly help. It’s something of a rambling comedy with a loose plot that exists mostly as a character piece exploring the man and the times, but with leads like these the journey can’t help but entertain. Boyle has the more wilder role, surprisingly, as a man well beyond the norms of society, while Murray falls into his character and stays there. It’s sporadically funny although much of it feels like an unscripted riff.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview]
The Young Pope
What is it? This pope, he’s young.
Why see it? Lenny Belardo (Jude Law) becomes the first American pope, and with that comes all the belligerence and attitude you’d expect along with plenty of beauty, wit, and fantastic acting. Diane Keaton joins Law and the pair run roughshod over the Vatican’s precise and measured environment. Director Paolo Sorrentino delivers the gorgeous, lush production that has become his trademark over films like The Great Beauty and Youth, and his darkly comic sense of humor is equally intact. HBO’s limited series gives the story room to breathe across ten episodes, and the result is an effectively entertaining exploration of something that will never actually come to pass.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, featurettes]
Also out this week:
The Axe Murders of Villisca, Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back, Prisoner X, The Sense of an Ending, Ugetsu Monogatari [Criterion Collection]