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Pick of the Week
What is it? Hamlet, but from a different perspective.
Why see it? The story of Hamlet is a well-known one as one man’s grief and madness leads to a series of deaths for which no one feels bad. Lone among them is his lover, Ophelia, who commits suicide in the face of his actions, but what if she was actually a lot smarter than that? Daisy Ridley headlines alongside Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, Tom Felton, and others for a re-imagining that gives Ophelia her own agency in engaging ways, and while the story we know plays out around her the choices she makes here are unexpected and wholly satisfying. There’s still tragedy, but this time there’s also beauty, hope, and independence as well.
What is it? Teens try to survive the cliques after a virus wipes out all the adults.
Why see it? The idea of an adult-killing virus is both silly and familiar enough, but director Jovanka Vuckovic and writer Katherine Collins turn the premise into a fun, bloody blast all the same. It’s a low budget genre film, but what it lacks in big set-pieces or epic action it makes up for with bloody violence — a kid bites it too, so you know I’m a fan — lots of personality, and a strong feminist slant. Paloma Kwiatkowski is especially appealing and engaging as Scratch, a mohawked badass with an eye for the leading lady, and the film has fun taking down high school cliques and mob mentality. That’s redundant, I know.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
What is it? A book written by a tortured girl brings terror to those who open it.
Why see it? The best-selling book series for young adults makes a far more satisfying jump to the screen than Goosebumps in part because it actually respects story and scares (and women, but that’s an argument for another time). Director Andre Ovredal creates a beautifully atmospheric take on late 60s small town America, a time when change and fear were growing in equal measure, and he’s aided by some stellar creature creations bringing the books’ best known monsters to life. It’s legit creepy — spider segment aside as it’s hurt by shoddy CG — and creates a world that deserves to continue in sequels.
[Extras: 4K UltraHD remaster, featurettes]
Snow Falling on Cedars [Shout Select]
What is it? A murder trial dredges up old loves and angers.
Why see it? Scott Hicks’ follow-up to his acclaimed Shine didn’t quite catch on with audiences, but it deserves a reappraisal for its story blending the shame of our internment of Japanese Americans and the unrelenting power of unrequited love. The back drop is a murder trial with a Japanese immigrant accused of killing a white man in post-World War II, and Ethan Hawke gives a tremendously affecting performance as a reporter covering the case who still harbors feelings for the accused’s wife. The film’s jumbled time structure doesn’t help it any, but the emotion of the tale powers through all the same. Shout’s new Blu-ray gives it the love it never got in theaters, and that’s not a bad thing.
[Extras: New 4K transfer and restoration, featurettes, commentary, deleted scenes]
Ambition [Scream Factory]
What is it? A young violinist faces doubts and a murderous neighbor.
Why see it? Bob Shaye is a successful studio executive who helped steer New Line Cinema towards box-office success, but as a director? Well, he has a terrible eye for story and script. This thriller forgets for so long that it’s supposed to be thrilling only to decide to cram it all into the final act in ways that make zero sense and carry even less weight. It’s clear what it’s going for, but the script and execution leave a lot to be desired.
Apprentice to Murder [Arrow Video]
What is it? A young man falls under the spell of a mysterious preacher in rural America.
Why see it? Remember Chad Lowe? He always seemed on the verge of breaking out, and this late 80s dramatic thriller sees him once again deliver a compelling performance in a film that went nowhere. He is overshadowed by a very showy turn from the great Donald Sutherland, but it’s the film’s lethargic pacing and presentation that probably did it in. The core mystery — is something supernatural afoot or is this simply a case of people believing what they want to be true — is engaging enough and offers plenty of narrative room to play around in, but the the film’s grasp never quite feels tight enough. Still, it’s an intriguing premise, and Mia Sara co-stars too.
[Extras: New 2K restoration, commentary, interviews, booklet]
The Art of Racing in the Rain
What is it? A family’s ups and downs are accompanied by their dog.
Why see it? Look, Kevin Costner voices the dog — the one narrating the film — and that’s good enough for me. Beyond that you get a sappy and sentimental tale of love and heartache captured perfectly competently. Milo Ventimiglia stars as the man of the house, and the role and story both compliment his work on NBC’s This Is Us and appeal to the same audience. If that’s you, then this movie is for you. And if it’s not? Well, Costner still voices the dog.
[Extras: Featurettes, commentary]
What is it? A work retreat turns deadly.
Why see it? Director Patrick Brice has shown a mastery over tone with his films Creep (2014) and The Overnight (2015) blending comedy and anticipatory terror to perfection, but his latest is an absolute dud. It’s more broadly a comedy, and maybe that’s the issue, because it’s a comedy without laughs or amusement. The darker side of the story just feels incompetent from script to screen, and we’re left with unfunny characters we don’t care about in the slightest. That’s not ideal.
Hobbs & Shaw
What is it? It’s a Fast & Furious spin-off that fails to give justice to Han.
Why see it? Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) are both characters who entered the existing Fast & Furious franchise and quickly became leads, and now they’ve gotten their own side film. Your appreciation of the film will rest solely on your love for these two. The action is expectedly ludicrous — even more so than the main film series so far — but what sinks the movie is the constant effort to be funny. The two banter and wisecrack from beginning to end, and in addition to it pairing poorly with deaths of unnamed characters very little of it is actually funny. Bottom line, you already know if this is for you.
[Extras: 4K UltraHD remaster, deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
It Always Rains on Sunday [KL Studio Classic]
What is it? An escaped convict hides out with his ex-girlfriend.
Why see it? This post-World War II drama has a pulpy setup at its heart, but the bulk of it plays very much as a serious tale about working class people struggling day to day. The finale livens up some as the world closes in on the man, but the bulk of the film is more sedate and serious. The film made Time Out’s cut for the 100 Best British Films, and it’s easy to see why as a representation of the country’s everyday people in the downturn after the war. Again, though, it’s not all that exciting.
[Extras: Commentary, featurette]
What is it? Three wives are forced to do their husbands’ dirty work.
Why see it? If Steve McQueen’s Widows is the classy version of this tale then this is the more generic. The film does a fine job creating the atmosphere of late 70s Hell’s Kitchen, and the three leads — Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss, and Tiffany Haddish — do good work, but the drama never feels as compelling as it needs to. It feels shy of believable which in turn hurts the drama. See it for the cast, but don’t expect too much here.
[Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
The Man Between [KL Studio Classic]
What is it? The divided city of Berlin leads a man to a fateful choice.
Why see it? Carol Reed’s The Third Man is considered a classic noir, but this entry is far lesser known. It features a young James Mason as a man who falls for a visiting American to the point that his judgement grows tenuous. Romance, danger, and melodrama ensue leading to an ending that feels like a clear inspiration for the Michael Douglas/Melanie Griffith drama Shining Through.
[Extras: Commentary, interviews, featurette]
What is it? A young man marooned on an island discovers he’s not alone.
Why see it? JD Dillard’s Sweetheart is the far, far better version of this tale — it’s on VOD now — as this one is never quite sure what it wants to be. Part creature feature, part YA adventure, the two halves don’t quite gel, and while Logan Miller has been a fun addition in supporting roles elsewhere he’s not quite able to turn this lead one into something compelling. Blame the script, though, as the arrival of the “monster” includes an explanation that just sucks the life out of everything else with its ridiculousness.
Undercover Brother 2
What is it? A sequel that nobody wants.
Why see it? 2002’s Undercover Brother is no comedic gem, but it manages enough smart laughs and jabs at the establishment to warrant a watch. This direct-to-video follow-up, though, can’t even manage any of that. Laughs are non-existent, and while it wants you to think Michael Jai White is the lead — something that might make this passable — he actually goes into a coma in the beginning and is absent for most of the film. It tries so hard to be funny and isn’t even remotely humorous. It’s embarrassing.
What is it? Two dying soldiers are re-purposed as super soldiers.
Why see it? It may seem like nothing now, but the first big meet-up between Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren was a big deal for action fans back in the early 90s, and thankfully it came with the budget to match. Roland Emmerich’s action romp delivers lots of gun play, vehicular shenanigans, and more and builds to a brawl between its two leads. It’s a fun slice of 90s action given a sharp new life with this release.
[Extras: New 4K UltraHD remaster, commentaries, featurettes, alternate ending]
Yellowstone – Season 2
What is it? One family attempts to keep and run their massive ranch by any means necessary.
Why see it? Kevin Costner’s second appearance this week sees him as patriarch to an American ranching family constantly butting heads with competitors, regulations, and the residents of a nearby Native American reservation. There’s a crime family element at play here, and Costner’s John Dutton is no angel, but it’s more of an engaging and active melodrama than The Godfather. The show continues to find interesting and fun angles with its cast of characters including Dutton’s grown children of differing temperments, and it’s never dull.
[Extras: Featurettes, interviews, deleted scenes]
Also out this week:
Naked Alibi [KL Studio Classics], New Port South [KL Studio Classics], Seven Days to Noon [KL Studio Classics], Woman in Hiding [KL Studio Classics]
Related Topics: Home Video