Welcome back to This Week In Discs where we check out tomorrow’s new releases today!
Outlaw Gangster VIP: The Complete Collection (Arrow Video)
What is it? Goro is a yakuza sent to jail for three years after stabbing an attempted assassin, and when he’s finally released it’s to a completely different power struggle in Gangster VIP. He tries to leave his gangster past behind him and heads to the country, but violence follows in Gangster VIP 2. Goro, working once again with the yakuza, finds himself embroiled in a battle with his own conscience in Heartless. Another knife fight, another prison sentence, and when he’s released he once again steps in to help out some people in need in Goro the Assassin. A young woman dies, a new challenger steps up, and Goro must again seek vengeance in Black Dagger. Violence and heartbreak make one final collaboration in Kill!
Why buy it? Sure there’s some repetition across these six films — okay, fine, a lot of repetition — but lead Tetsuya Watari is compulsively watchable as a tough but tender antihero. The stories are slight in depth but deep in action and actually deliver more than a few visually impressive fight scenes. They’re rarely one on one affairs and instead blossom into epic brawls involving a dozen or more knife-wielding young men. Goro’s various romances highlight an interesting and unusual display of sweetness for gangster pics, but don’t think that means he won’t slap a woman when necessary. Like I said… anti-hero. Arrow’s new box-set once again shows why they’re one of the best labels out there as they bring these movies to America for the first time with love and enthusiasm for cinema and physical media.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, visual essay, trailers, booklet]
Outlaw Gangster VIP: The Complete Collection (6-Film Limited Edition Box Set feat. Gangster VIP 1 & 2, Heartless, Goro the Assassin, Black Dagger, and Kill!) [Blu-ray + DVD] (Japanese)
In 1968, acclaimed director Toshio Masuda (Rusty Knife, Tora! Tora! Tora!) and rising star Tetsuya Watari (Tokyo Drifter) teamed up for Outlaw: Gangster VIP, a gritty yakuza yarn based on the writings of real life ex-gangster Goro Fujita. The series offers up a depiction of the Japanese underworl…
What is it? FBI Agent Cathy Weaver (Debra Winger) is sent undercover into a radical right-wing hate group to investigate their possible connection and complicity to a recent politically-motivated murder, but what she finds is far far black and white. As she digs deeper into their world she also falls in love with a man (Tom Berenger) who may have been involved in the killing.
Why rent it? I’m not sure of the replay value of Costa-Gavras’ late ’80s thriller, but there’s no denying its power. The two leads give fantastic performances — possibly career best (in Berenger’s case at least) — and the film works beautifully as a purely American drama. There’s both suspense and mystery here amid the tension and romance, and it all of whirls together to create what should have been a far more celebrated film.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]
Dangerous Men (Drafthouse Films)
What is it? A young woman watches in horror as biker thugs murder her lover before her eyes, and the event is enough to push her into a mission of vigilante justice. The dead man’s brother meanwhile is a cop investigating the recent string of vigilante killings until he catches wind of bigger prey.
Why buy it? This is one of those cases where a movie is so unbelievably “bad” that owning it and sharing it with your friends is the only responsible course of action. Writer/director John S. Rad crafted this gem across multiple years with seemingly no sense of narrative, character, structure, pacing, etc. resulting in a movie that drops and starts new subplots with ease — the vigilante storyline disappears and suddenly we’re on the hunt for a blond biker named Black Pepper. Why? Why not. Drafthouse Films has paired this incompetent movie with some very competent extras including a commentary track featuring the extremely knowledgeable and always entertaining Zack Carlson. Buy it. Watch it. Shake your head. Watch it again.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Booklet, commentary, documentary, interview, TV footage]
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon
What is it? John Belushi. Chevy Chase. Christopher Guest. Bill Murray. Michael O’Donoghue. P.J. O’Rourke. Gilda Radner. These are just a few of the writers and performers who began their careers at the National Lampoon magazine before evolving and moving on to television and films beyond the brand. This doc explores the magazine from its inception through its glory days and eventual decline once the talent had left the building.
Why buy it? Most of these players are best known for their time on Saturday Night Live, but it was here where they honed their skills, pushed boundaries, and formed relationships that still remain today (aside for the folks who died along the way, obviously). The big appeal here is the wealth of archive footage and first-hand stories about what the magazine was like at the height of its power where it generated both laughs and controversy.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, featurettes]
Ip Man 3
What is it? Wing Chun grandmaster Ip Man (Donnie Yen) has relaxed some, and while he still teaches martial arts he’s also making an effort to spend more time smelling the flowers. He’s forced back into conflict though when a powerful foreigner (Mike Tyson) attempts to steamroll his way over the city and a second man (Jin Zhang) attempts to force his way into the grandmaster arena.
Why buy it? Yen is always worth watching fight even though his films can often be hit or miss, but the one sure thing in his oeuvre is the Ip Man trilogy. All three present the character with real stakes before unleashing Yen to kick tremendous amounts of ass. He once again displays speed and style in his fighting ability, and it’s a joy to behold. I had concerns going in that Tyson would overwhelm the film with his acting inability and presence, but not only is he fine but the film wisely keeps him as a subplot. This should be a blind buy for action fans.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews, behind the scenes]
What is it? David Lamb (Ross Partridge, who also writes and directs) is at something of a low-point in his life. Disillusioned with his current station, he pauses briefly in a parking lot unsure of where to go from there. It’s not long before an unlikely answer arrives in the form of Tommie (Oona Laurence), a pre-teen dolled-up in high heels and tight clothes who’s been dared to bum a cigarette from the stranger. David sees himself as a lost cause and her as a blank slate headed towards a life of apathy and abandon, so he decides to take this opportunity to correct her course by way of his wisdom and time spent closer to the great outdoors, and with the eleven year-old’s permission — nonsense, and he knows it — the two take a road trip to his father’s cabin in the mountains.
Why buy it? Lamb is a buddy picture, a road picture, and a tale of friendship, but it’s one where the buddies exist in an uncomfortable dynamic. The conflict that arises — we can’t support this pairing, but they seem to work so damn well together — infuses the drama with an uncertainty that speaks to the best and worst of humanity. We want what’s best for these two even if we’re not sure they themselves know exactly what that is.
[DVD extras: Commentary, deleted scenes]
What is it? Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an explorer and trapper working to guide a group of settlers through dangerous wilderness, but when a bear attack leaves him incapacitated and near death the men abandon him. Powered by the desire for revenge, Glass slowly makes his way towards recovery and vengeance.
Why buy it? Alejandro G. Iñàrritu’s became something of a whipping boy this past awards season for reasons both legitimate and exaggerated, but if you can leave all of that background noise behind you’re left with a beautifully-shot, intense tale of survival and revenge. The bear attack is tremendous (although still not as terrifying as the one in Backcountry), DiCaprio is terrifically gritty, and the cinematography is a marvel. There are things to nitpick — Tom Hardy’s performance, that last dialogue exchange — but they’re minor issues in a majorly compelling film.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary]
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (Scream Factory)
What is it? The family responsible for the carnage recounted in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was never caught, and over the years they’ve faded into local legend. More than a decade later, Texas Ranger Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper) arrives in the area searching for justice and vengeance, and with the help of a local DJ (Caroline Williams) he zeroes in on the cannibalistic clan.
Why rent it? Tobe Hooper’s follow-up to his own legendary classic is not a good movie — the humor is abundant but flat, the characters are all unsympathetic, and some of its beats try too hard to ape the original — but it offers some minor joys all the same. Tom Savini’s gore effects and Hopper’s maniacal performance are those joys. The reason why this landed under “The Best” section though has more to do with Scream Factory’s new release. The film is presented with a new 2k HD scan that looks beautiful, and they’ve packed the discs with numerous extras new and old.
[Blu-ray extras: Three commentaries, interviews, Horror’s Hallowed Ground, making of documentary, deleted scenes]
Veep: The Complete Fourth Season
What is it? Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is the president of the United States. It was through an act of fate though, meaning she still needs to win a quickly looming general election. She and her team take up residence in the White House and work to secure her legitimate presidency even as she struggles with the day to day issues of being the most powerful woman in the world.
Why buy it? I’m not typically one for buying seasons of a TV show as re-watch values are normally pretty low, but when you find a comedy this consistently hilarious there’s little room for discussion. Even with multiple viewings the combined forces of creator/main writer Armando Iannucci and this stellar cast make for laughs that just keep coming. Anna Chlumsky is my personal favorite — I can watch her verbally eviscerate people all day long — but others including Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, Gary Cole, and Tony Hale offer rapid-fire, razor-sharp delivery too. It’s all so deliciously cruel.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
Barcelona (Criterion Collection)
What is it? A pair of preppy cousins from America meet up in Barcelona, Spain and engage in a series of conversations and interactions set against a populace growing disenchanted with fascists and capitalists alike.
Why rent it? Whit Stillman’s second feature offers observations aplenty on a time and place as viewed through the lens of American sensibilities. The banter is endless and quick — some of it takes sharp aim at youth, America, and politics while the rest is targeting more shallow prey — and while it’s not always successful at earning a laugh or a nod it’s rarely less than engaging. This is only my second Stillman (after Damsels in Distress), so I’m not fully on board with his style and affectations yet.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, video essay, making of, deleted scenes, TV footage]
Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street
What is it? An American private detective named Sandy (Glenn Corbett) arrives in Germany hoping to discover who killed his partner, and his quest for revenge lands him in an elaborate ring of blackmailers and murderers.
Why rent it? Sam Fuller’s early ’70s film is actually an episode of a long-running German television show, but he turns it into a creation of his own across two hours of plot twists, altercations, and meandering shenanigans. It’s that last bit that hurts the film as various sections drag noticeably with scenes that repeat themselves or show things we really have no need or interest in seeing. Acting and editing are also shaky, but for its many faults the movie and its new release are something special for Fuller fans. Olive Films is presenting a new restoration of what amounts to a director’s cut, and the included doc on the film’s history offers some interesting insight into Fuller as well.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary, essays]
Fifty Shades of Black
What is it? Christian Black (Marlon Wayans) is a powerful businessman with a shady past who finds himself in an unexpected relationship when a deceptively unappealing young woman visits his office for an interview. He takes it upon himself to introduce her to his kinkier side, but it’s not long before the student becomes the teacher.
Why skip it? The comedic geniuses behind the Scary Movie and A Haunted House franchises move their aim from horror/comedies to S&M shenanigans, and unsurprisingly, the result is even fewer laughs. The “satirical” target is last year’s box-office hit adaptation, Fifty Shades of Grey, but the jokes hurt far more than any of the fetish implements. Like all of the laziest spoof movies the film takes random pot shots at all manner of pop culture icons and events, and not only does none of it help the narrative but none of it helps the funny bone either. Skip it and watch Secretary instead.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, deleted scenes]
Haven: The Final Season
What is it? FBI Agent Audrey Parker was sent to the small town of Haven to investigate a murder, but what she found was a community holding earth-shattering secrets. The people here have powers, special powers, and the origin of its existence might just be related to Audrey’s own mysterious past.
Why rent it? First off, let’s congratulate Syfy on squeezing 78 episodes out of their adaptation of Stephen King’s 184-page book The Colorado Kid — while having pretty much nothing to with that source material. As for the show itself, the Lost inspirations are clear (for better or worse) as the story and mystery is teased out slowly, constantly sprouting new subplots and tangents. This final wrap up answers the important questions, but it loses tangible interest as it moves further and further from its more grounded beginning.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, commentaries, interviews]
What is it? Ben (Josh Duhamel) is a lawyer trying to make his bones at a prestigious law firm, and he thinks he has an in thanks to an ex-girlfriend (Malin Akerman) who claims to have incriminating evidence about the CEO (Anthony Hopkins) of a giant pharmaceutical company. His ambitious plan goes awry in deadly fashion.
Why skip it? There’s a damn solid cast in this ostensibly twisted thriller including the trio already mentioned plus Al Pacino, Alice Eve, Julia Stiles, and Lee Byung-hun, but they’re all pretty much wasted. Story turns feels forced, and the big twist is visible from early on thanks to both the writing and the casting. Lee’s subplot feels incomplete, although he remains the only character I’d be curious to see more fleshed out. Also worth noting, the script doesn’t really seem all too keen on women. Skip it and watch The Firm instead.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Making of, deleted scenes]
Pretty Little Liars: Season Five
What is it? Five friends have been facing off against a mysterious adversary known only as “A” for four seasons, but now it all comes to an end. They discover A’s identity, they end the nightmare, and they move on with their lives. Until five years later when a new anonymous enemy arrives.
Why skip it? The mystery of A’s identity has been milked for everything it’s worth at the expense of smart writing, smart characters, and engaging mysteries, and the ultimate reveal isn’t nearly as satisfying as you’d like. Worse, even when it ends it doesn’t end. The new mystery feels far too much like a copy of what came before, and once again the stakes only feel real for side players. This is the kind of show that makes you wish American TV subscribed to the UK model of seasons lasting less than ten episodes each as everything here is just so stretched out. Skip it and watch True Detective season two instead.
[DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
Silicon Valley: Season Two
What is it? A small tech start-up continues to make waves as they work to grow in the highly competitive landscape of the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley. Budgets, new hires, and lucrative deals come paired with lawsuits, stress, and backstabbing, and the fate of one more start-up is tossed into the air.
Why rent it? HBO’s comedic take on the tech industry is sharply written, but most of the comedy is of the situation variety as opposed to jokes and gags that leave you laughing. That’s not a bad thing, but it makes for a show that loses some of its appeal on re-watch. Still, this cast is killer as the likes of Thomas Middleditch, T.J. Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, and Zach Woods bring the funny week after week.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurette, commentaries]
The Stuff (Arrow Video)
What is it? A new dessert begins appearing on store shelves and quickly takes America by storm, but is there more to it than meets the taste buds? Yes, obviously. It’s a living, breathing entity capable of taking over its hosts, and that’s when it doesn’t simply just kill them. The only hope mankind has is Michael Moriarty.
Why rent it? Larry Cohen’s mid-’80s horror/comedy is a lot of messy fun — lots of people die, and there are some cool practical effects gags, but it avoids hard bloodletting thanks to the abundance of the Fluff-looking Stuff. It leans a bit too comedic at times, and not always successfully, but on the whole it remains an enjoyable romp thanks in large part to the incomparable Moriarty. He’s a Cohen favorite, and it’s easy to see why. The making-of documentary included on Arrow’s sharp-looking new Blu-ray (new 2k scan!) is loaded with anecdotes, but sadly they weren’t able to include Cohen’s commentary track from a previous release.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Documentary, trailer commentary, booklet]
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
What is it? Kevin (Martin Lawrence) is a thief who’s recently fallen in love. When one of his targets (Danny DeVito) turns the tables and steals a ring given to Kevin by his new lady the professional thief is forced to put an elaborate plan into motion.
Why skip it? There’s a pretty fantastic cast of funny people milling about in this comedy including Nora Dunn, William Fichtner, Glenne Headly, John Leguizamo, Bernie Mac, Larry Miller, and Richard Schiff, but a few jokes aside most of it is for naught. The main narrative is a battle of wills between the two leads, but it’s difficult to take sides when neither is all that likable.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette, music video]
1900, And Then There Were None, German Angst, The Lady in the Van, Little House on the Prairie: The Ninth and Final Season, Norm of the North, Once I Was a Beehive
Related Topics: Home Video