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Pick of the Week
Cobra Kai – Seasons 1 & 2
What is it? A follow-up to The Karate Kid.
Why see it? Sequels and follow-ups that arrive decades later are often sad cash grabs devoid of heart and purpose, but this new series — a YouTube original! — is absolutely bursting with both. It makes some genius observations about the characters then and now, both Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny (William Zabka), and it asks some fascinating questions about the over simplicity of labeling people as good or bad. Several of the conflicts could probably be solved by simply talking to each other, but regardless, it’s funny, thrilling, emotionally satisfying, and I can’t recommend it enough.
[Extras: Featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes]
47 Meters Down: Uncaged
What is it? Friends go swimming with sharks.
Why see it? This sequel to the surprise Mandy Moore hit ups the game a bit with some more stylish visuals, a wider victim pool, and some fun thrills. It’s an entertaining horror/thriller, and its structure and execution as a slasher of sorts makes things even more silly and enjoyable as sharks stalk people underwater and pop out for surprise scares. Does the shark occasionally scream beneath the waves too? Yes, yes it does.
[Extras: Featurette, commentary]
After the Wedding
What is it? A woman is faced with a revelation and an important decision.
Why see it? Bart Freundlich’s remake of Susanne Bier’s 2006 original is a fantastically affecting drama about the choices we make and the consequences that result. There’s a trio of terrific performances here from Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, and Billy Crudup, and the triangle they form isn’t quite the one you’re expecting. Moore’s successful CEO brings in Williams to donate money to her charity, but it’s soon revealed that they both have a shared history. It’s really good stuff.
What is it? Water will fuck you up with its beauty and horror.
Why see it? This documentary is thankfully free of narration and instead lets the imagery do the talking, and hoo boy does it talk loud. From icebergs to hurricanes to people brave and stupid enough to drive an SUV across a frozen lake, the film captures the raw power and beauty that comes in the form of water. The score ramps up and matches the intensity of the visuals, and we get moments here that are truly gasp-inducing. Watching the SUV crack and sink through the ice? You’ll be holding your breathe.
Charley Varrick [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A bank robbery goes awry.
Why see it? Who knew the pairing of director Don Siegel and lead Walter Matthau would be such a magical thing? Add in a bad-ass Joe Don Baker and you have a tight, mean, and surprisingly casual thriller that fires on all cylinders. Action beats and suspense work hand in hand with Matthau’s wry humor and wisecracks, and it’s never less than engaging with its characters.
[Extras: New 4K master, featurettes, commentary]
What is it? A family lies to their matriarch for her benefit.
Why see it? Lulu Wang’s semi-autobiographical tale — “based on an actual lie” — is as warm and rich a film as you’re likely to see this year. The family at its center feels real in their love and arguments alike, and the film manages a wonderful balance between humor and heart. The entire cast of Chinese actors is fantastic, and while a few are recognizable to Western audiences it’s Awkwafina who stands out as the lead. She’s funny as hell, but when the emotional beats hit she’s every bit as powerful. It’s a sweet, affecting film that reminds viewers of something that shouldn’t need reminding — value the people in your life.
[Extras: Commentary, interviews, deleted scenes]
What is it? Three friends discover friendship can be tough on your friends.
Why see it? It’s not wrong to see this as a preteen Superbad as the friends see their closeness challenged by the real world issues inherent in growing up, but their shenanigans in the process are hilarious. Much of the comedy comes from seeing these kids in these predicaments, but the writing is also sharp, the lessons heartfelt, and the ending pitch perfect.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, gag reel, featurettes]
Road Games [Scream Factory]
What is it? Two Americans in Australia cross paths with a serial killer.
Why see it? Richard Franklin’s early 80s thriller is a terrific little genre piece pairing grisly kills with a goofy road picture of sorts as Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis banter, flirt, and fend off a murderer. There’s suspense, black comedy, and plenty of time spent in Australia’s gorgeous and occasionally terrifying landscapes. It’s less about the killer’s identity than it is the journey bringing our heroes and the madman together. Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray is loaded with extras new and old and worth the upgrade for fans.
[Extras: Interviews, commentaries, featurettes]
Winter Kills [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A man discovers a conspiracy at the heart of his family’s legacy.
Why see it? What a weird, odd, and strange movie that could have only come out of the 70s. Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Toshiro Mifune, Elizabeth Taylor, and more star in this twisty, funny, nonsense-filled thriller that riffs on the Kennedy assassination in unexpected ways. All the ingredients for a serious, dramatic thriller are here, but the film instead takes it all with a sly smile — it never slips into spoof levels of comedy, but it rarely plays things all together straight. Kino’s extras are also a treasure trove of insights and observations.
[Extras: New 4K master, commentary, ]
The Angry Birds Movie 2
What is it? Birds and pigs join forces against an unexpected threat.
Why see it? The popular mobile game became a hit movie, because of course it did, and that made a sequel obligatory. The good news, though, is that this follow-up is the better flick with more laughs and shenanigans. I’m not saying it’s a gem by any stretch, but it’s fun enough for a watch.
[Extras Shorts, featurettes]
What is it? A man tries to put his life back together after being wrongly convicted as a teen.
Why see it? Aldis Hodge does good, heartfelt work as a man facing a life broken by the justice system and the passage of time, and Greg Kinnear is equally solid as the man trying to lend him a hand up. There’s no denying that it’s an inspirational true story, but it still feels a bit flat emotionally as it hits that one expected note and rides it through to the end. It’s fine.
What is it? A young artist channels her art into hell, and hell into her art.
Why see it? Joe Begos’ third feature brings a punk aesthetic to the screen in loud, angry, agitated ways, but while it teases an Abel Ferrera sensibility the story and lead character can’t quite complete the trifecta. It’s just so much distraction that never comes together. The visuals are occasionally interesting and grimly vibrant, but they’re not enough to sustain even the already slight 80 minutes.
[Extras: Commentaries, deleted scene]
Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles
What is it? A filmmaker discovers truths about himself and his perception of the world around him.
Why see it? Luis Bunuel’s film career would go on to earn critical acclaim, but his early years were spent producing shorts that often courted controversy. This animated feature explores his journey through the production of 1933’s Land Without Bread, and it offers an engaging look at his developing process. That includes his attitude towards those around him and the growing empathy and understanding that would develop.
[Extras: Documentary, interview]
Cross: Rise of the Villains
What is it? Action heroes fight to save LA from villains.
Why see it? The cast list is really all you need to know if this is a film for you, so here it is — Brian Austin Green, Lou Ferrigno, Vinnie Jones, Jeremy London, Eric Roberts, Tom Sizemore, DB Sweeney, and Danny Trejo. It’s a sequel to another direct to video romp with sketchy visual effects and rough jokes, and if that’s your thing then you should buckle up for more.
Emanuelle in America [Mondo Macabre]
What is it? Emanuelle has some fun.
Why see it? The Emanuelle series is best known as a collection of softcore shenanigans, but the entries helmed by Joe D’Amato had more explicit things on their mind. This film is one of the more notorious and sees its Emanuelle, Laura Gemser, investigating what amounts to a snuff film ring. Nudity, sex, and violence follow, and it’s definitely the kind of adventure modern cinema just can’t match for better or worse. Mondo’s new Blu is a fantastic home for the film and includes an interesting doc on D’Amato’s career.
[Extras: New 4K transfer, interview, documentary, commentary]
The Far Country [Arrow Academy]
What is it? A cowboy’s search for peace and success is marred by others’ greed.
Why see it? James Stewart headlines this western as a man trying to drive a herd of cattle towards a worthwhile payday, but the interruption of a corrupt lawman (a terrific John McIntire) keeps getting in his way. The film’s back half takes place in Dawson City, up in Canada’s epic Yukon Territories, and it’s there where the landscape and drama collide for some traditional western beats. It’s a solid film that builds to an inevitable shootout, but it could have used a bit more in its middle. Still, Arrow’s new Blu-ray is a strong release.
[Extras: New restoration, booklet, documentary, featurette]
Flowers in the Attic [Arrow Video]
What is it? The flowers are children!
Why see it? VC Andrews novels were a staple for teenage girls throughout the 80s and probably beyond, and her bestsellers continued even after her death thanks to the publisher’s use of writers hiding behind her name. Her most famous work, the one that kicked off her incest-tinged narratives, got the big screen treatment with mixed results. Turns out it’s easier to slip innuendo and ickiness into a “teen” book than it is putting it into a PG-13 movie.
[Extras: Commentary, interviews, deleted scene]
Gone Fishin’ [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? The return of Joe Pesci to the silver screen.
Why see it? Danny Glover and Joe Pesci as best friends and fishing buddies? Sign me up! I kid, this comedy ain’t all that great despite the prestige cast and presence of JJ Abrams as screenwriter, but fans of movies giving supporting actors their own buddy comedy can do far worse. There are some laughs along the way, with more popping up depending on your fandom for Glover and Pesci, but it’s never all that memorable.
The Gun Runners [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? An adaptation of an Ernest Hemingway novel.
Why see it? Don Siegel directs this Hemingway story about a charter boat captain who gets caught up in a scheme involving illegal weapons, and while it’s a solid drama it’s worth a watch mostly for Siegel’s sure hand behind the camera. To Have and Have Not has been filmed a few times, and while this isn’t necessarily the strongest it remains a worthwhile watch. Audie Murphy takes the lead and is supported by the likes of Richard Jaeckel, Eddie Albert, and Jack Elam.
[Extras: New 2K remaster]
Madigan [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A pair of detectives are in a race to catch a murderer who got away from them.
Why see it? The second appearance by Don Siegel to make the list is the better of the two and stars Richard Widmark and Harry Guardino as the cops in hot water after they fudge a routine perp pick up. The film splits its time between these guys and the police commissioner played by Henry Fonda who’s having his own unfolding dilemma, and both stories are at their strongest while the men are on the job — it’s a different story when they enter into their respective domestic subplots. Still, it’s an engaging little drama with some brief but solid action.
Operation Crossbow [Warner Archive]
What is it? Allies go looking for a Nazi rocket.
Why see it? Big World War II spy action isn’t as popular these days, but past decades saw plenty of entries in the sub-genre including this mid 60s adventure that’s loaded with recognizable names. George Peppard leads the pack alongside Sophia Loren, Trevor Howard, and more. The story shifts from spy antics to action set-pieces, and while it runs a little long at two hours it’s a fine watch.
Street People [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A deal gone wrong leads to violence, chases, and murder.
Why see it? Roger Moore and Stacy Keach headline as best friends working in and out of the mafia system, and that entails all manner of twists and double-crosses. Moore is almost in casual Bond mode here, but Keach is the charmer who’s clearly having a blast which in turn translates to ramping up the fun for viewers too. One sequence that sees him intentionally crashing a test drive car runs nearly ten minutes and is ridiculous fun. The disc includes a new interview with Keach too, and he shares some entertaining memories.
[Extras: New 2K master, interview]
Tel Aviv on Fire
What is it? A Palestinian man walks a fine line as the writer on an Israeli TV series.
Why see it? The real world offers little to laugh about when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but thankfully movies exist. Our hero here is Salam, a hopeful TV writer who stumbles into a job just as he fumbles his way into being pulled in two directions by opposing forces. There are some serious undertones at play here, but the film’s prevailing interest is in comedy, and happily it succeeds with some funny interactions and observations.
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A thief and a drifter join forces for a heist.
Why see it? I figure I’m in the minority in not loving this one, but I still dig it enough to make it a recommended pick-up. Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges are always an interesting watch, and director Michael Cimino delivers an engaging debut as well. The action works well, but it’s held back from greatness with a script that stumbles through its dialogue and characters. The whole still works on the strength of the cast (which also includes a pissy George Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis) and action though.
[Extras: New 4K master, commentary, featurette]
The World, the Flesh, the Devil [Warner Archive]
What is it? A worldwide war leaves three people left in New York City.
Why see it? Movies about the end of the world come in all shapes and sizes, and this one falls into the Last Man on Earth camp minus the mutated baddies. Harry Belafonte headlines as the last man who soon meets a last woman… and a second last man, and while it’s good for a while conflict soon brews between the guys over the woman. It’s an interesting take on the story and ends on a surprisingly optimistic note which is something of a rarity.
Also out this week:
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Pretenders, Shade, Stallone double
Related Topics: Home Video