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Pick of the Week
What is it? An unholy virus unleashes hell inside an apartment building and beyond.
Why see it? [Rec] and [Rec] 2 are certified horror masterpieces, and I say that knowing that both “certified” and “masterpieces” are nonsense words when it comes to movie opinions. They’re legitimately terrifying, though, and both films show how to do found footage with style, smarts, and terrific scares. They collectively take place over a few hours in real time, and it’s an intense ride from beginning to end. Scream Factory brings both to Region A Blu-ray with some detailed extra features exploring the films’ productions. The third and fourth films in the series are also included, and while neither are nearly as good — the third is a mildly entertaining break from the found footage style, and the fourth is just generic — it’s fantastic getting all four of them in one place.
[Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, outtakes, deleted scenes, commentary on the first film]
American Psycho [4K UltraHD]
What is it? An image-obsessed young man finds comfort in the murder of others.
Why see it? Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel is a razor-sharp satire of 80s excess and self-obsession. It’s a wickedly black comedy with stellar dialogue and performances, and the murder set-pieces thrill in execution and style. Fans debating whether it’s worth a double dip to upgrade to 4K should feel confident doing so as not only is it an attractive film made more vivid in UltraHD and more powerful to the ears, but the disc is a rarity in that it includes new special features only available on the 4K disc including a brand new commentary with Harron recorded this year.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Commentaries, featurettes]
The Punisher [4K UltraHD]
What is it? A man with vengeance in his heart where love for his family used to reside brings the fight to the bad guys.
Why see it? I know this film isn’t held in the highest of regards, but the damn thing just satisfies as an enjoyable action thriller. It’s good fun with solid action sequences, and Thomas Jane does great work as the sympathetic yet bad-ass lead. John Travolta’s penchant for over the top performances finds a perfect home here too. The 4K upgrade succeeds in adding some additional visual detail, but the bigger draw is the upgraded audio which pops beautifully on the right equipment. As with American Psycho above, the extras are included on the 4K disc only, but they don’t appear to be exclusive to this release.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes, music video]
A Raisin in the Sun [Criterion Collection]
What is it? A struggling black family makes plans for an insurance check they hope will change their lives.
Why see it? Lorraine Hansberry’s beloved play receives the most beautiful adaptation here from director Daniel Petrie and stars Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and others. The drama is warm yet affecting just as the humor is affectionate and biting, and the sharp dialogue cuts on both ends of the spectrum. Most of the film takes place in the family’s small apartment, but it never feels remotely claustrophobic. We share the space with them and feel a part of their pains and triumphs, and while there’s uncertainty to the end it’s the uncertainty of life itself. Everyone is terrific here, but Poitier in particular mesmerizes with a full-body performance for the ages. Criterion’s new Blu-ray is as perfect a disc as the film deserves.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: New 4K transfer, interviews]
Born Free Collection
What is it? A family raises an orphaned lion cub and releases it back into the wild.
Why see it? This collection brings together the two original films, a later TV movie revisit, and the short-lived television series, and all follow pretty much the same story line. Compassionate people take in cubs, raise them, and release them into nature, but their bond remains. As is expected the best of the set are the first two films. Their production value results in attractive landscapes and animal interactions, but all of them offer important reminders about the need for kindness and compassion towards all living creatures, and that’s never a bad thing.
[DVD extras: None]
What is it? Doctor Frankenstein creates a lady for his monster with dire results.
Why see it? James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein is an established screen classic, but like Frankenstein itself it’s a story that’s seen more than one iteration. Case in point is this somewhat lavish redo from the 80s that trades real drama and suffering for a more Hollywood-ized take complete with a civilized “monster” and a fully nude bride — with a PG-13 rating! Sting’s performance isn’t great, but both Jennifer Beals and Clancy Brown do good work as the created beings. It’s an engaging enough watch for fans of the characters, but it doesn’t really grab you dramatically speaking.
[Blu-ray extras: Interviews, commentary]
Exorcist II: The Heretic [Scream Factory]
What is it? The devil’s not through with little Regan MacNeil.
Why see it? I’ve never been the biggest fan of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist — possession movies bore me — but this follow-up is still a clear step down. The attempt at mixing things up is appreciated, but it moves into goofy areas that can’t help but neuter the horror. (Dreamscape handles the idea better within the need for demonic intervention.) Richard Burton and Louise Fletcher do bring some class to the proceedings, though, so it never feels like you’re watching a cheap knock-off exactly, but yeah, the third film remains my favorite of the franchise. Your tastes may vary, and if that’s the case this new Scream Factory release is a must-own thanks to sharp new scans of both versions of the film and some new extras including a brand new Linda Blair interview.
[Blu-ray extras: Two cuts of the film, new 2K scan of both, commentaries, interview]
What is it? John Gotti reflects on his terrible life.
Why see it? I mean, you probably shouldn’t see it, but if you’re determined it would probably be because you’re either a super John Travolta fan or a masochist. (Redundant, I know.) I kid Mr.Travolta, but the problem here isn’t really with the cast which also includes Pruitt Taylor Vince, Stacy Keach, Kelly Preston (remember her?), Chris Mulkey, and Leo Rossi (who also co-writes). The problem is with the script and to some degree direction. Crime films, even “true” ones, can be solidly entertaining pieces of dramatic cinema, but this just feels goofy and overblown from minute one. It’s hard to take any of it seriously meaning the intended drama falls on giggling ears.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? A pair of rough and tumble frontiersmen seek money stolen from them by a politician.
Why see it? There’s real fun to be had with this western comedy romp, and most of it comes courtesy of stars Lee Marvin, Robert Culp, and Strother Martin. Oliver Reed also stars, but your mileage may vary as he’s playing a Native American complete with red-face meaning some of the laughs carry a tinge of “oh no” with them. Action beats and playful music go hand in hand with misogyny too, but for all of its dated “charms” there’s a clear innocence to the comedy. It’s a fun time in the old west.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Halloween [4K UltraHD]
What is it? A deranged man decides to off some young people.
Why see it? John Carpenter’s slasher classic is revered for good reason as it’s a beautiful slice of terror. Jamie Lee Curtis fights off a mute, maniacal killer on Halloween night, and the director crafts the suspense and attacks with masterful use of pacing, visuals, and shadow. Add in his legendary score and the film’s status as a masterpiece is clear. This new 4K release is timed to the arrival of the brand new sequel (that’s fine but still pales beside Carpenter’s film), and it’s ultimately a title worth picking up only if you don’t currently own on disc. The 4K upgrade isn’t all that strong here, unsurprisingly, and while some additional clarity is visible it’s not a whole new experience.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes]
Hot Summer Nights
What is it? A teenager finds love, violence, and drugs over one stormy summer.
Why see it? Coming of age tales are no sure thing, but it can’t hurt blending your tale with sex, crime, and a hurricane. All of the above come together here with a story that recounts a local legend of sorts in a small beachside community, and while its narration feels unnecessary the effect works well enough. The movie is fine, but the real draw here is the cast which includes Timothee Chalamet, Maika Monroe, Emory Cohen, William Fichtner, and Thomas Jane.
[DVD extras: Featurette, commentary]
What is it? Aliens invade Australia unaware that it’s the deadliest place on Earth.
Why see it? Not every movie needs to be a blockbuster or a game-changer, and this alien invasion picture knows that. It’s content being a riff on Red Dawn, and to that end it succeeds with some engaging characters and grounded action as townspeople fight back against a heavily armed invading force. It’s the kind of film that could spawn sequels, and you’d happily watch them, but you’d just as easily forget them soon after. Nothing wrong with that.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
What is it? A teenage girl suffers socially from her close relationship with her mother.
Why see it? I’ll be honest. I’m in the minority in my dislike for this one, but most people I know who’ve seen it are very fond of the film’s characters and message. Personally, I find it to be utterly oppressive poverty porn as the main ingredients are misery and poor choices. The themes include family, love, and being true to yourself, but it’s just such a painfully miserable slog as the characters we follow are continually humiliated and emotionally abused. Your mileage may vary.
[DVD extras: None]
Punisher: War Zone [4K UltraHD]
What is it? Frank Castle continues his war on crime.
Why see it? Lexi Alexander’s take on the legendary Punisher character is probably the truest to the comics of all, and that comes with positives and negatives. The film captures cells from the comic in its visuals and features some fun action set-pieces, but it also has a playful, campy feel to its villains that significantly lessens the impact. It’s an entertaining ride, though, and the extras offer some enlightening details as to the film’s production. As is the trend with Lionsgate’s 4K upgrade, the visual detail is mildly improved while the audio is a significant step up.
[4K UltraHD/Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, commentary]
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich
What is it? A convention celebrating a Nazi who played with dolls descends into chaos when the dolls start killing people.
Why see it? The long-running horror franchise gets a reboot of sorts here, and it’s a mixed bag. There are some terrifically fun and gory kills including two destined for someone’s hall of fame somewhere, and the cast is great fun including Barbara Crampton, Thomas Lennon, Udo Kier, and others. The problem is a script (by Bone Tomahawk scribe Craig Zahler). It’s bad enough that it betrays the series’ long-standing setup that the dolls were made by a Jew escaping Nazis — they’re now made by a Nazi and they target minorities — but it also fails to create a single engaging character for viewers to care about. You might love it. You might not.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]
What is it? A killer’s stalking the girls of Alpha Beta Haeta.
Why see it? Woof. Slashers really only need to hit a few key points to be worthwhile — basically we want some fun kills, a vaguely interesting killers, and an engaging enough downtime in between the murders. This dull flick can’t manage any of the above. The editing is such that kills are ugly affairs thanks to choppy presentation and obnoxious shots/angles, and their only plus is that you’re glad when any character is killed. The mystery is no great shakes, the hero is meh, and it’s enough to make you re-evaluate the Sorority Row remake.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette]
What is it? A young actor finds triumph and abuse on her road toward stardom.
Why see it? Asia Argento’s been in the news for events beyond her acting and directing, but anyone who’s been following her career saw glimpses of truth in her feature directorial debut. In addition to the normal highs and lows of an actor’s life the film sees her forced into an encounter with an aggressive producer clearly modeled on a certain Weinstein brother. It makes for an eye-opening watch, but it’s also rough in other less-engaging ways. A low budget and a raw, unfinished feel may appeal to some but it makes for an ugly watch in general.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentaries, featurettes, interview]
Solo: A Star Wars Story
What is it? We learn things about Han Solo.
Why see it? Ron Howard’s entry into the Star Wars universe has its charms starting with Alden Ehrenreich’s lead performance that perfectly captures Harrison Ford’s attitude and sass. The supporting cast is a mixed bag with turns from Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, and others, and the action and set-pieces are equally varied. It’s far from the bad movie some people proclaimed, but it pales in ambition and execution from the highs of expectation. It’s fun, but while the homage in The Force Awakens came with familiar faces this one feels like a steady stream of callbacks and references.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes]
What is it? An elderly woman heads home alone.
Why see it? Part character study, part road trip, this is a sweetly engaging tale about realizing it’s never too late to be true to yourself. Geraldine Page is terrific in the lead role as a woman skipping out on those holding her back as she heads towards the only place she wants to be, and while it’s an uplifting tale overall there are some sad bumps along the way. You know, like life itself. John Heard and Rebecca De Mornay co-star.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary]
What is it? An underdog pulls together a legendary team for a life-changing street-ball tournament.
Why see it? Look, I may not know much about football, but I know entertaining movies, and this is one. It’s overly silly at times, and I still don’t understand how they cured the blind guy or the paraplegic, but it delivers a satisfyingly pleasing tale of underdogs and friendship along the way. Nick Kroll and Tiffany Haddish steal their scenes, but the baseball players beneath the old man makeup do good work too. For as much as I enjoy it I can only imagine the lacrosse fans among you will get far more out of it.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Animated short, deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
Also out this week:
Absurd [Severin Films], Andrei Rublev [Criterion Collection], Angel Town, Anthropophagous [Severin Films], The Baby [Arrow Video], Billions – Season Three, Body Melt [Vinegar Syndrome], C.B. Strike – The Series, The Day of the Jackal [Arrow Video], DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – The Complete Third Season, Dynasty – Season One, The House on Tombstone Hill [Vinegar Syndrome], Izzy Gets the Fuck Across Town, Memories Within Miss Aggie [Vinegar Syndrome], Mountain, Quigley Down Under [Shout Select], The Seagull
Related Topics: Home Video