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Pick of the Week
Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder
What is it? A pistol-packing priest is after a demon who’s after a boy.
Why see it? The beauty of Blu-ray genre labels is the constant stream of forgotten and little-seen gems finding new audiences. This terrifically fun horror flick is the perfect example. Michael Rooker plays the gun-toting pastor, and while there’s some regrettable 90s CG work the majority of the thrills come come via more grounded efforts. Action and horror combine in some legitimately thrilling ways, and it does some interesting things with its story. Plus a one-eyed, Rastafarian Tony Todd! MVD’s Rewind Collection is an eclectic label, but this release makes a strong argument for their existence.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, featurettes]
What is it? Two women fall for each other and into trouble when they come between a mob boss and his money.
Why see it? The Wachowskis are known for big sci-fi/action films, but their debut — still one of their best features — is a twisty, sexy thriller with two incredibly compelling and charismatic performances at the top of the ticket. Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon shine, and it’s not just the glistening of their sweat. Their chemistry is tangible, and while the film unfolds in a small location the tension it builds is powerful. Add in a killer turn from Joe Pantoliano and you have a stellar noir that holds up beautifully despite its humble roots.
[Blu-ray extras: Theatrical and unrated cuts, commentary, interviews]
What is it? The life and times of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Why see it? Documentaries on real people too often focus on those we’re already familiar with or the totally obscure, but RBG finds success in enlightening viewers about someone we thought we knew better than we do. Much of Ginsburg’s life has been spent on the nation’s Supreme Court, but while the doc covers her influence as a judge it explores other aspects of her life too. It’s a fascinating one, thankfully, and Ginsburg proves again and again that she’s a uniquely American success story and as entertaining as she is important.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes]
Tucker: A Man and His Dream
What is it? Tucker is a man with a dream.
Why see it? The story of Preston Tucker is one of both inspiration and sadness — he was as American an entrepreneur as you could want , but unfortunately for him and the people of the USA his dreams went counter to the desires of the powers that be. That being corporations, of course, the most powerful entities in our country. Jeff Bridges gives a bright but heartbreaking performance as Tucker, and Francis Ford Coppola captures all of the drama and humanity with real affection. The legendary filmmaker also graces the special features with his usual informed and entertaining commentary.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, deleted scene, featurettes]
What is it? A man’s left paralyzed after his wife is killed, but technology gives him a chance at a brutal revenge.
Why see it? Leigh Whannell takes a break from horror (Saw, Insidious) to deliver an action/sci-fi hybrid filled with grisly bits. He does a great job world-building a near future with tech-oriented modifications that enhance and devastate our lives. Logan Marshall-Green kills it in the lead role, and while the revenge story plays out as you expect the details matter. Whannell captures the action with sharp, brutal energy and visceral camerawork — the fights are living, breathing sequences with bone-cracks leaving you wide-eyed and smiling.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None, which is some bullshit because they recorded a commentary and only made it available via the iTunes digital version]
What is it? Four young men plan and execute an art heist… poorly.
Why see it? Books are rarely the target of thieves on film outside of magical tomes, but this crime actually happened. The true story behind the movie itself plays a major role here too well beyond serving as an inspiration. The film is a narrative interwoven with talking head interviews with the real participants. The two parts actually cross over a few times too, and the result is a something odd — it’s basically a documentary with lots of very well made/acted re-enactments. That’s not a bad thing, but it certainly works against the suspension of belief required by any fictional feature film.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, commentary]
Autumn in New York
What is it? A threesome between an older man, a younger woman, a deadly illness.
Why see it? Two tropes in the romantic drama genre are May/December romances and doomed love affairs, so kudos to this feature for mashing the two together. The two leads are the main draw here as both Richard Gere and Winona Ryder are charismatic performers, but the story beats feel eternally familiar all the way through its expected ending. Joan Chen’s direction is fine, if unspectacular, and the city’s captured with awe and beauty, but it ultimately comes down to its leads. I’d argue their chemistry isn’t exactly all that great, but they give such good performances individually that it hardly matters.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
What is it? Four women of advanced age pick Fifty Shades of Grey as their next book club title.
Why see it? This is the epitome of a movie you watch almost solely for the cast. Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen are each legends in their own right, and putting them together promises moments of pure delight. The film itself is a less certain thing, though, as it exists in a pseudo Nancy Meyers world that lacks her wit. Still, these four women — alongside supporting turns from Andy Garcia, DOn Johnson, Craig T. Nelson, and Richard Dreyfess — make a compelling comedy team.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
Brainscan [Scream Factory]
What is it? A teen finds the terror of a new virtual reality game crossing over into the real world.
Why see it? There are some fun beats and ideas at play here, but the various elements don’t quite come together with the intended effect. It’s neither scary nor thrilling, and part of the problem is the character of Trickster. He’s annoying. Any fear that builds from a teen being made culpable in real-world crimes through a game is neutered by this goofy guy prancing around in his button-up shirt. Of course, Edward Furlong doesn’t help either. I’m in the minority, though, so the rest of you should be pleased with Scream Factory’s fantastic new Blu loaded with new extras.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, interviews, deleted scene, featurette]
Criminal Minds – Season 13
What is it? Criminal profilers have their hands busy with America’s sickos.
Why see it? Most procedurals offer a broader focus on criminals from killers to thieves to terrorists and the like, but the main strength of Criminal Minds comes in its single-minded attention to psychopaths. There are some truly twisted killers at play here complete with dark and grim story lines. The cast is equally important, though, and it remains compelling through a solid mix of faces both familiar and new including Joe Mantegna, Matthew Gray Gubler, Aisha Tyler, and more.
[DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes, CBS pilot epiosdes]
The Flash – The Complete Fourth Season
What is it? Barry Allen is fast, but is he fast enough?
Why see it? I’ve said it before, but DC’s grip on TV is every bit as strong as Marvel’s cinematic universe. The characters work in this element better than DC’s managed on the big screen, and there’s a solid balance between action, personality, and effects sequences. I do wish they’d do shorter seasons — but to be fair I think all shows should have 4-8 episode seasons — but more engaged fans won’t share that complaint. This season sees more familial action, but it never gets in the way of the expected superhero antics.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: DC CW crossover episodes, featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel]
The Horror of Party Beach [Severin Films]
What is it? Monsters invade a game of beach blanket bingo.
Why see it? Sixties creature features aren’t typically known for their monster effects, and that holds true here — although they may be remembered for less than stellar reasons. It’s a low-budget affair, but there’s personality to spare in its mash-up of monsters and beach fun flicks made popular by Gidget and the like. It’s also surprisingly grim and gory at times, especially for the period, although the black & white gives it a deceptive sheen. Severin’s new Blu restores the film and offers some fun, illuminating extras exploring its production.
[Blu-ray extras: Documentary, interviews]
Lucifer – The Third Season
What is it? Like you wouldn’t use your powers to solve crimes if you were the devil.
Why see it? The premise of this show is a pretty irresistible blend of procedurals and the supernatural, and it’s enough to support and deliver an entertaining series tackling crimes and devilish deities. It’s yet another example, though, of seasons that run far too long for their own good — twenty-six episodes! Overarching story threads are dragged out leaving viewers dependent on the case of the week to carry them through. It’s fun.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes]
What is it? A man dies but chooses a return to Earth over Heaven.
Why see it? Masaaki Yuasa’s 2004 feature is a wild, loud, and energetic slice of animation that absolutely doesn’t fit with the rest of GKids’ output. Language, violence, attempted rape, murder — it’s an ugly world brought to colorful, vibrant life. It feels like a film riding on a sugar high throughout, for better or worse, and in that regard at least it may grow tiresome for certain viewers. Those who stick with it, though, will find plenty of creativity and a dash of commentary as well.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Feature animatics, commentary]
A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A gunslinger tries to retire, but that’s not the way things work in the wild west.
Why see it? The western genre is no stranger to gunfighters hoping to leave the world behind, but while morality is often the key motivator here our hero is also fighting a physical ailment of sorts. It adds to his struggle as the inevitable — time to start shooting again! — kicks in with threats entering the picture. There are some solid action scenes as gunfighters fight, and the characters offer engaging and varied interests. Kino’s new HD master comes via a 4K scan, and the film looks bright and fantastic.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary, international ending]
The Naked and the Dead [Warner Archive]
What is it? A platoon fighting in World War II finds themselves torn between commanders.
Why see it? Norman Mailer’s epic novel gets the big-screen treatment guaranteed to satisfy fans of the book with its cast, production design, and sincerity. It’s a character piece on a grand scale as soldiers find themselves at the whims of competing viewpoints held by their commanding officers — one aims to get the job done regardless of the cost to the point of intimidating and endangering his men, the other values the lives and abilities of the men more than mere success — and it creates some engaging drama. It’s definitely epic in scope at over two hours, but it’s a compelling production for fans of military life.
[Blu-ray extras: None]
What is it? Friends who’ve been playing the same game of tag for thirty years face the end of an era.
Why see it? The bulk of the game-play here has been heightened to exaggerate the painful, action-oriented nature of it all. It’s basically been Hollywood-ized, and while that’s to be expected and will appeal greatly to audiences who can’t get enough pratfalls and wince-inducing body slams, the rest of the film’s comedy is a bit less impactful. The characters aren’t all that interesting as they battle it out for physical dominance, but it’s entertaining enough as the handful of laughs, the stylish action beats, and the heartfelt ending combine into an enjoyable and forgettable romp.
[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Bloopers, deleted scenes, featurette]
A Thousand Acres [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? Three sisters inherit their ailing father’s farm, but secrets, lies, and betrayal threatens to tear it all apart.
Why see it? Jane Smiley’s acclaimed novel creates a modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear set in the American Midwest. Jason Robards excels as the patriarch who’s lorded over his daughters all their lives, but the film belongs to the three women — Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Together they deliver a devastating tale of complicated relationships, and while there are moments of warmth the prevailing feeling is far chillier. People are cruel, but family is crueler.
[Blu-ray extras: Commentary]
Also out this week:
Dear Dead Delilah [Vinegar Syndrome], Freedom Fighters: The Ray, Goreface Killer, Memories of Underdevelopment [Criterion Collection], Mohsen Makhmalbaf: The Poetic Trilogy, NCIS: Los Angeles – Season 9, Shot [Vinegar Syndrome], S.W.A.T. – Season One, Woman Walks Ahead, Wonder Women [Vinegar Syndrome]
Related Topics: Home Video